Today in OpenGov: Payday lenders lobby hard


In today's edition, we launch some exciting new projects, lobbying pays off for payday lenders during the Trump administration, the NIH opens up more publicly funded research, big tech companies work to circumvent FOIA, and more. 

shedding sunlight

  • Reflecting on "the memo" and what it says about the state of transparency in Washington, DC. We reflected on the release of a controversial memorandum drafted by Republicans on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, arguing that the selective declassification of this memorandum — but not the one drafted by Democrats on the committee – is an indicator of bad faith on open government, not a commitment to fully informing the public about how surveillance is used, abused or authorized in U.S. government. Our takeaway? Full transparency would include not just the release this Nunes memo: it would mean releasing the memo from the Democrats on the committee, the underlying intelligence it’s based upon, the applications for and renewals of relevant FISA warrants, going beyond the requirements of the USA Freedom Act to disclose all secret laws and interpretations at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or the number of Americans whose papers are being searched without a warrant. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Tracking Trump administration conflicts, one week at a time. Lynn Walsh announced a new weekly feature on the Sunlight blog. This Week in Conflicts will be a weekly roundup focusing on the potential conflicts of interest for the First Family. The inaugural edition featured reporting on Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald — who stepped down as C.D.C. director amid a controversy over conflicts — as well as a look back at President Trump's first year's worth of conflicts by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Announcing the Web Integrity Project. Last week, we proudly announced the launch of the Web Integrity Project and its mission to monitor changes to government websites, holding our government accountable by revealing shifts in public information and access to Web resources, as well as changes in stated policies and priorities. (Sunlight Foundation)


The payday lending industry has significantly boosted its political spending over the last decade. Via OpenSecrets.
  • Payday lenders see political push pay off. "In mid-April, hundreds of members of the payday lending industry will head to Florida for their annual retreat featuring golf and networking at a plush resort just outside Miami. The resort just happens to be the Trump National Doral Golf Club. It will cap a year in which the industry has gone from villain to victor, the result of a concentrated lobbying campaign that has culminated in the Trump administration’s loosening regulatory grip on payday lenders and a far friendlier approach by the industry’s nemesis, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau." (New York Times)
  • Documents obtained via FOIA show additional Trump emoluments. "A new FOIA release obtained by Property of the People shows that Trump-owned properties have continued to receive government funds, in what appears to be a violation of the emoluments clause. Property of the People previously identified payments to Mar-a-Lago from the U.S. Government. The latest release shows that this was not a one-time affair. The new payments show $1,700 went to the Trump International Hotel from the General Services Administration." (MuckRock)
  • EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt personally monitored changes to climate change information on website. "Newly released emails show Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally monitored efforts last year to excise much of the information about climate change from the agency’s website, especially President Obama’s signature effort to reduce planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants." (Associated Press)
  • The husband of a former household aide to President Trump now works at the EPA. "A home improvement contractor married to one of Donald and Melania Trump’s former household staffers is now working as an official at the Environmental Protection Agency, the latest example of someone with a personal connection to the Trump family finding work in the administration. New Jersey-based Steve Kopec joined EPA’s Region 2 office in New York as a special assistant on Dec. 18, according to a memo obtained by POLITICO." (POLITICO)

washington watch

Image via POGO.
  • To unrig the system, Congress must commit to anti-corruption reforms. Danielle Brian shares recommendations for how to "unrig the system", writing, "fixing the rigged system in Washington, D.C. isn’t only about addressing problems with campaign finance and lobbying around elections. It’s also about stopping the corruption that goes on in the years between elections that affects Americans’ daily lives—so much of which is currently legal." (Project on Government Oversight)
  • Rule changes at the National Institutes of Health will expand public access to research. "The National Institutes of Health has established sweeping new rules governing research conducted on humans, requiring scientists who receive federal funding to publicly disclose more of their research—and causing confusion and consternation at some institutions." (Wall Street Journal) Our take? Publicly funded research should be open and accessible to the public. Thanks to the NIH, more of it now will be at
  • The Justice Department is embracing big data in new investigations. "In the last few days, top Justice Department officials have unveiled two task forces that rely on analyzing complex sets of big data to crack down on financial fraudsters and dark web drug dealers. Both programs, said the officials, illustrate the increasing importance of the capability to sift through mountains of data to stop large-scale, secretive crimes that might otherwise be difficult to see." (Federal Computer Week)

states and cities

  • Mapping police body camera policies. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announced an update to their policy body camera map with "some of the latest laws and policies across the country for public access to footage."
  • How big tech is exerting control over FOIA. Mya Frazier explores how tech companies like Facebook and Amazon are working to exert influence over Freedom of Information laws as they make deals with states and cities. She shares a number of examples including language that would give Facebook advanced notice of FOIA requests related to their projects and instances of Amazon negotiating via a wholly owned subsidiary with a completely different name. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Washington, D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability votes against reappointing head of Office of Open Government. "A city panel has voted not to reappoint D.C. Office of Open Government Director Traci L. Hughes, a decision condemned by activists who said Hughes was being punished for her enforcement of District regulations on government transparency." (Washington Post) We agree with our friends at the D.C. Open Government Coalition in condemning the decision. It is a mistake and a step backwards for open government in Washington, D.C. 


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