In today's edition, we explore the state of open data and journalism, some high profile retirements are announced in the House, the CDC director steps down, we help Madison, Wisconsin understand its open data users, Ghana inches closer to passing a Right to Information law, and more.
states and cities
- Using open data to support equitable and complete neighborhoods in Madison, Wisconsin. Our Open Cities Team explained how we helped pilot the new Tactical Data Engagement approach in Wisconsin by working with Reboot to understand Madison’s current and potential users of open data — particularly those working on issues related to public access to services and community spaces, transportation, and housing. On the blog, we explain how our work "ultimately informed our creation of six personas of potential users of Madison’s open data. Together with Reboot, we identified themes from across interviews and aggregated them into composites to help Madison’s staff understand the audience for city open data." (Sunlight Foundation)
- New York Mayor De Blasio wants all NYPD patrol cops to have body cameras by the end of the year. "The NYPD is stepping up its rollout of body cameras, with plans to have each cop and detective on patrol in the city equipped with one by year’s end, Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday. The accelerated pace means the project will be completed a year ahead of schedule, said the mayor, helping to make the city 'fairer, faster and grow trust between police and communities.'" (New York Daily News)
- Missouri lawyers sue governors office over use of ephemeral texting app. "Two Missouri lawyers have sued the governor’s office over its use of Confide, an ephemeral messaging mobile app, which they say is in violation of state public records law. The two men are set to appear before a county judge on Friday to ask for a temporary restraining order that would bar current and future use of such apps by the governor and his staff." (Ars Technica) Our take? When elected officials use ephemeral messaging platforms to communicate with their staff, the default absence of transparency or accountability undermines public trust in whether they are conducting public business with integrity.
- In response to suit, lawyers for Missouri governor argue that banning officials from using ephemeral texting apps is a violation of free speech. "Ordering Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff to stop using an app that erases text messages would violate their free speech rights, attorneys for the governor argued in a brief filed Tuesday. Greitens and his senior government staff use an app on their personal phones called Confide that erases text messages after they are read and prevents someone from saving, forwarding, printing or taking a screenshot of texts. Because the app is designed to eliminate a paper trail, it is impossible to determine whether the governor and his staff used it to conduct state business out of view of the public, or whether they’re using it for personal and campaign purposes." (Kansas City Star) Our take? Governor Eric Greitens should rethink this position and give the public reasons to trust he's doing public business in the open.
- It's 2018 and Senate candidates are still required to file paper campaign finance reports. Yesterday, Michael Beckel reminded us that "while most federal candidates are electronically filing their latest campaign finance reports today [January 31], today is the postmark deadline for Senate candidates, who must, by law, file on paper." Luckily, there's a bipartisan bill that would bring the Senate into the 21st century. (Issue One)
- The top 50 lobbying spenders dropped $540 million on influence in 2017. "The top 50 lobbying spenders in Washington, hailing almost exclusively from corporate America, spent more than $540 million on influence campaigns last year. That total represents almost a quarter of the $3.34 billion that was spent overall on lobbying and a modest increase over the amount the top 50 organizations spent in 2016." (The Hill)
- House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) will retire from Congress at the end of this term. "Representative Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who was swept into office with the Tea Party wave of 2010 and became one of the best-known investigators on Capitol Hill, said on Wednesday that he was leaving the House…Mr. Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor who is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has been threatening to leave elected office for years." (New York Times)
- Embattled Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-PA) won't seek reelection. "Rep. Robert A. Brady will not run for re-election, he announced Wednesday. The Pennsylvania Democrat was already facing a handful of primary opponents amid an ongoing scandal relating to his alleged bribing of a former challenger." (Roll Call)
- Justice Department gives up on corruption case against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). "The Justice Department reversed itself and dropped its corruption case against Sen. Bob Menendez on Wednesday, removing a huge burden from the senator — and national Democrats — as he prepares for a reelection campaign." (POLITICO) As we said in 2016, the Supreme Court decision on McDonnell opens worrying new horizons. This is just the latest proof that it has become much harder to prosecute public corruption in the USA.
- No sign of We the People petition site, despite Trump administration pledge to relaunch platform. "The White House took down the popular 'We the People' petitions website, started by President Barack Obama’s administration, in December, with the promise that the site would be restored by 'late January.' As of 3 p.m. on Jan. 31, the site, which allows citizens to post petitions that require a White House response when they meet a certain number of signatures, is still down." (Washington Post) UPDATE, 10:30 am: As of early this morning, the White House epetitions site still wasn’t online. Now “We the People” is back along with all, of the petitions from 2017. It is February 2018. Neither the President nor his staff has published a response.
- FBI opposes release of controversial memo, citing inaccuracies. "FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes release of a classified Republican memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter." (Bloomberg)
- CDC director resigns following reports of conflicting stock purchases. "President Donald Trump's top public health official resigned Wednesday amid mounting questions about financial conflicts of interest. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald's resignation comes one day after POLITICO reported that one month into her tenure as CDC director, she bought shares in a tobacco company." (POLITICO) As our friends at OpenTheGovernment.org highlighted, the original reporting relied on the Freedom of Information Act, showing that strong transparency laws are key for an informed public.
- Despite being warned it might trigger ethics questions, Ben Carson let his son organize "listening tour" in Baltimore. "Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson allowed his son to help organize an agency 'listening tour' in Baltimore last summer despite warnings from department lawyers that doing so risked violating federal ethics rules, according to internal documents and people familiar with the matter. Career officials and political appointees raised concerns days before the visit that Carson’s son, local businessman Ben Carson Jr., and daughter-in-law were inviting people with whom they potentially had business dealings, the documents show." (Washington Post)
around the world
- Will Ghana finally pass a long considered Right to Information bill in 2018? "Ghana was way ahead of many African countries when in 1999 lawmakers drafted a Right to Information (RTI) bill that would allow citizens to access public data. But after nearly 20 years, it remains just that — a bill…However, earlier in January 2018, the Ghanaian parliament proposed July 2018 as the new deadline to finally approve the bill. If passed, it would give effect to the constitutional right of access to any information held by public institutions and private entities which perform public functions with public funds." (Global Voices)
- UK Parliament votes to officially release leaked Brexit study. "The government will release a study of the economic impact of different Brexit scenarios after MPs backed the move in a House of Commons vote on Wednesday afternoon." (POLITICO) The study was leaked and published by BuzzFeed earlier this week.
- Head of Amnesty International in Turkey, jailed since last June, released on bail. "A court in Istanbul ordered the conditional release on bail of the local Amnesty International chair Taner Kılıç, the human rights group said in a statement on Wednesday. Kılıç was detained and jailed in June last year, facing charges of belonging to a terrorist organization." (POLITICO)
what's the state of open data and journalism?
Help us track the state of open data and journalism around the world.On our blog, Alex Howard explains how Sunlight is contributing to an ambitious new international research project that’s assessing the state of open data across a range of issues and themes, culminating in a book that will be introduced at the 5th International Open Government Data Conference in Buenos Aires in the fall of 2018.
We'll be contributing a chapter on open data and journalism and need your help to ensure that our network scan on journalists, media and open data is robust and complete. We want to hear about all of the good work that isn’t currently listed, and the challenges that persist for access, creating or using open data as a source and resource for journalists. Learn more via the Sunlight Foundation blog.
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