Today in OpenGov: The revolving door keeps on spinning


In today's edition, the revolving door spins smoothly for the pharmaceutical industry,  Russian bots love President Trump's Twitter, whistleblowers and journalists are under threat in Australia, Bellevue, Washington becomes a high tech hub, and more. 

washington watch

  • Investigation reveals extent of revolving door between drug industry and Washington. "Alex Azar’s job hop from drugmaker Eli Lilly to the Trump administration reflects ever-deepening ties between the pharmaceutical industry and the federal government. A Kaiser Health News analysis shows that hundreds of people have glided through the 'revolving door' that connects the drug industry to Capitol Hill and to the Department of Health and Human Services." (Kaiser Health News)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement gains access to nationwide license plate database. "The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has officially gained agency-wide access to a nationwide license plate recognition database, according to a contract finalized earlier this month. The system gives the agency access to billions of license plate records and new powers of real-time location tracking, raising significant concerns from civil libertarians." (The Verge)
  • National political cash flooding high profile special election in Pennsylvania. "A Western Pennsylvania House seat that backed President Donald Trump by 20 points became the latest special-election battleground this week. After months of shadow-boxing in the otherwise solidly Republican district, investments this week by both the DCCC and the NRCC signal the race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone is more competitive than recent history would suggest." (POLITICO)
  • Koch network to drop $400 million on midterms following a quiet presidential cycle. "The conservative political network led by billionaires Charles and David Koch plans to spend close to $400 million on policy and politics during the two-year election cycle that culminates with November’s midterm elections, a roughly 60 percent increase over 2015-16." (Bloomberg)
  • New York Times report on the "bot economy" highlights how fraudulent use of real identities can manipulate the public. The report explains how "Fake accounts, deployed by governments, criminals and entrepreneurs, now infest social media networks…These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations. Yet their creation and sale fall into a legal gray zone." (New York Times) Our take? The fraudulent use of real identities and sock puppets to manipulate of commerce, public discourse and politics show why the online disclosure gap matters. Disclosures and disclaimers for online electioneering are table stakes for increasing trust.


President Trump on his phone, via The Hill.
  • Russian bots retweeted President Trump nearly half a million times in lead up to election. "Russian bots on Twitter retweeted President Trump hundreds of thousands of times during the last months of his presidential campaign, Twitter told Congress. The company revealed to lawmakers on Thursday that the Russian-linked accounts had retweeted Trump nearly 470,000 times from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15, 2016." (The Hill)
  • Judge rejects request for secrecy in case involving Kushner-owned apartments. "A federal judge has rejected a bid by companies connected to President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to keep secret details in a pending lawsuit claiming that Maryland apartment complexes owned or managed by Kushner's companies collected illegal fees from tenants. As a tenant, if you found yourself in the middle of this type of situation we recommend going to this website.
  • Kuwait's embassy started patronizing President Trump's hotel for its National Day party after his election win. "For the second year in a row, the Kuwaiti embassy will hold a large National Day celebration at President Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington…Before Trump’s election, Kuwait had held its National Day celebrations repeatedly at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown — and asked the Four Seasons to reserve a day for the event to return in 2017. Then, after Trump won, Ambassador Salem al-Sabah switched the event to the Trump International Hotel — which opened in late 2016 on Pennsylvania Avenue NW." (Washington Post) Our take? Another foreign government is choosing to patronize a private business of the President, who has neither disclosed his taxes nor divested from 600+ conflicts of interest.
  • Trump nominates a permanent Chief Information Officer. "Filling a position that has sat vacant for a year, the Trump administration has nominated a new permanent federal CIO: Suzette Kent, currently a principal with global accounting firm Ernst & Young’s financial services practice." (NextGov)

states and cities

Downtown Bellevue. Photo courtesy of the City of Bellevue.
  • How open data illustrates Bellevue, Washington's transformation from sleepy 'burb to high tech hub. Alex Dodds and Jeremiah Griswold explore some of the new data sets released by the city of Bellevue, Washington following passage of its open data policy last August. The city recently made datasets on permits, fire structural risk, and traffic collisions publicly available. As Dodds and Griswold explain, the "three datasets are closely connected, as the city’s development boom has implications for both fire safety and traffic. Together, they represent some of the biggest priorities for the city as a whole." (Sunlight Foundation
  • NYPD ordered to release documents on 'predictive policing' in win for transparency advocates."Late last month, a Manhattan judge ordered the New York City Police Department to release documentation about the department’s use of secretive and highly controversial “predictive policing” surveillance technology, scoring a win for advocates of transparency on police policy. The documents came to light as part of a lawsuit against the city filed by the Brennan Center for Justice, a New York-based policy institute." (The Intercept)
  • Kansas House speaker orders transparency around legislations sponsorship. "Responding to increased calls for greater transparency in Topeka, the Kansas House speaker has ordered all committee chairs to stop allowing bills that do not identify the sponsors. If a bill is introduced on behalf of someone else — such as a lobbyist — that will also be made clear, Rep. Ron Ryckman said Monday. He said he is also working with staff to post the names of bill sponsors on the Legislature’s website. The moves, which take effect immediately and don’t require legislative action, end the century-old practice of anonymous bills in the House. At least for this session." (Kansas City Star) Our take? This is a step in the right direction, but as the Kansas City Star's previous reporting on opacity in state government has shown, further reforms are still needed. 
  • How $8,000 in a Dunkin Donuts bag helped bring down this Florida Mayor. "Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, who was removed from office Friday after being snared in an FBI sting, solicited illegal campaign contributions not only for herself but for two political allies, court documents say. Gov. Rick Scott suspended Cooper on Friday, a day after she was arrested and accused of accepting contributions funneled through Alan Koslow, a once prominent attorney who has since been disbarred after a conviction on federal charges. In August 2012, undercover agents handed Koslow a Dunkin’ Donuts bag filled with $8,000 in cash – all in $100 bills, investigators said in court records." (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

around the world

  • This reality TV show is trying to discourage corruption. "The timing could not have been better. In the same week as two civil servants in Nigeria appeared in court for embezzling funds earmarked for International Anti-Corruption Day, the finalists of 'Integrity Idol' were announced. In this reality television show, honest civil servants working in corrupt countries compete for glory, fame and, occasionally, a live chicken. The show is a hit: over 10m people have watched it and more than 400,000 have cast their votes in favour of their Integrity Idols." (The Economist)
  • Proposed law change in Australia could send journalists and whistleblowers to jail for 20 years. "Proposed changes to Australia’s national security laws that could see journalists and whistleblowers jailed for up to 20 years will “criminalise” reporting and undermine the media’s ability to act in the public interest, the nation’s major news outlets have warned. " (The Guardian)
  • Putin critic Navalny detained, eventually released, following rally against upcoming election. "Russian authorities released opposition leader Alexei Navalny from police custody Sunday night after he was detained at a protest in which he called for a boycott of Russia’s March 18 presidential election." (POLITICO)

save the dates

  • Wednesday, January 31st at 9 am EST: How can we Bridge the Gap Between Citizens and State? Previewing the Open Budget Survey 2017, Washington, DC. "On 30 January 2018 the International Budget Partnership (IBP) will release the Open Budget Survey 2017 – the latest round of the world’s only independent and comparable assessment of budget transparency, citizen participation, and independent oversight institutions in the budgeting process." On January 31, the IBP will hold a release event at the World Bank in Washington, DC. On February 6, a similar event will be held in London, U.K. 
  • Thursday, February 8th, 6-9 pm EST: Public Interest Potluck, Boston, Massachusetts. "MuckRock, in coordination with Boston Hassle, would love for you to join us for an evening of conversation, entertainment, and light eats at our first ever public interest potluck…We’re bringing together community members, activists, academics, and aspiring civic participants of all ages to talk about what they’re working on and what they would like to see going forward. Come share an idea or impression and learn about the buffet of ways people in our neighborhoods are exchanging and using information. We’ll have very short introductions from some of our guests with music and food and opportunities to get involved." Learn more and register to attend here
  • March 11 – 17: Sunshine Week. The 2018 edition of Sunshine Week will take place from March 11th to 17th around the United States. The folks at the National Archives are already preparing their program. You can keep up with the latest Sunshine Week news and find out what's in store at


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