Today in OpenGov: A new (ethics) sheriff in town?


This morning, we're mourning the passing of John Perry Barlow a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Internet pioneer, fierce defender of civil liberties in a digital age, and a visionary who challenged us all to build a better future online, and off. His voice will be missed. Rest In Peace.

In today's edition, President Trump picks a new ethics chief, the FEC's quorum shrinks, Ohio lawmakers reject open government reforms, an indictment may be on the way for Benjamin Netanyahu, and more. 


  • President Trump's pick to head the Office of Government Ethics gains praise, faces major challenges. "The White House announced Wednesday evening that Trump intends to nominate a current associate counsel at the Office of Government Ethics, Emory Rounds, to serve a five-year term as the office's director…Former OGE Director Walter Shaub, who resigned last July and has been an outspoken critic of the Trump's administration's handling of ethics matters, welcomed Trump's selection of Rounds'." (POLITICO) Our take? If confirmed, Rounds will face a challenging context: when a president is neither transparent nor holds himself accountable to federal ethics law, the Office of Government Ethics can only warn of the dangers that poses to the union, not defend against them.
  • Before being nominated to number 2 spot at the EPA, this coal lobbyist was helping key Senate committee members raise money. "While waiting for a nomination to the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, a coal lobbyist, cozied up with the senators who would decide upon his appointment in the most direct way possible: giving them money…Fundraising documents obtained by The Intercept and the watchdog group Documented show that Wheeler hosted campaign fundraisers for two members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works — Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. — last May." (The Intercept)
  • This new podcast from ProPublica and WNYC digs into the mysteries of "Trump Inc.". Eric Umansky and Andrea Bernstein explain how, "a couple of months ago, a few of us from ProPublica and WNYC sat together in a conference room and started scribbling on a whiteboard. We were brainstorming all the possible paths to investigate around President Donald Trump and his family businesses." The end result of that brainstorm? A weekly podcast "that will start with questions, not answers." The first episode, which looks backwards to explore how it is "almost impossible to see the line between Trump the president and Trump the CEO", is up now. (ProPublica)

washington watch

This chart shows the dramatic jump in outside spending on federal elections since 2010. Via OpenSecrets.
  • How Citizens United changed campaign finance. Reflecting on the 8 year anniversary of the Citizens United decision Bob Biersack explains that, while overall political spending has not changed much, the sources of that spending have morphed significantly from "a system founded on the principle of individuals giving limited, disclosed contributions directly to candidates, parties and PACs…into a system that allows individuals and organizations to give hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, to groups to spend in elections, some of whom are closely aligned with candidates and parties, without disclosure." (OpenSecrets)
  • A case in Alaska is aimed at testing unlimited, undisclosed campaign spending. "A national group is focusing on Alaska in a bid to get the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit a 2010 decision that upended how campaigns are run in this country. The court decision paved the way for corporations and unions to make unlimited independent expenditures, and in Alaska, was viewed by state officials as likely rendering several provisions of law prohibiting or limiting certain contributions unconstitutional. Washington, D.C.-based Equal Citizens wants to put that interpretation to the test but it could face an uphill battle." (San Francisco Chronicle)
  • Lee Goodman steps down from the FEC, leaving the body clinging to a quorum. "Lee Goodman, a Republican appointee to the Federal Election Commission, announced his resignation Wednesday, leaving the deeply divided panel with a bare quorum to conduct business…With Goodman’s departure, the FEC has a bare-minimum quorum of four members — two Republicans, one Democrat and one independent — whose unanimous votes are now required to take official action." (Washington Post)
  • The Office of Special Counsel warns that insider threat programs could chill potential whistleblowers. "Agencies throughout the federal government should evaluate whether insider threat programs and electronic monitoring of employee communications are chilling would-be whistleblowers, according to new guidance issued last week by the main agency tasked with protecting federal whistleblowers. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which issued the guidance, sent three memos that update the government’s interpretation of whistleblower protection laws." (Project on Government Oversight)
  • PSA: The Government Publishing Office will shut down FDSys in December, officially making the primary source for official US government information online. Read more about the transition via the Federal Depository Library Program.

states and cities

Image via KOTA TV.
  • South Dakota kills bill that would have made government emails public records. "Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s office spearheaded an effort Wednesday to kill a bill that would have made some government emails and correspondence public records under state law." (Argus Leader – USA Today)
  • Reform plan for bipartisan redistricting to go before Ohio voters. "Ohio voters will decide whether to overhaul the way state legislators draw congressional district lines in a May referendum after Democrats and Republicans reached a last-minute deal this week. The measure will ask voters whether they want to amend the state constitution to require bipartisan support when drawing new congressional district lines." (The Hill)
  • A key witness in corruption case against former top aid to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is testifying this week. Yesterday marked the start of "the critical cross-examination of Todd R. Howe, the government’s star witness in the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who stands accused of an array of charges, including conspiracy, extortion and solicitation of bribes." (New York Times)

around the world

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Image Credit: Chatham House
  • Israeli police to recommend corruption indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Israeli police will recommend indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, the premier confirmed on Wednesday. Netanyahu said he remained confident that he won’t be prosecuted despite the coming recommendation from the head of police, Roni Alsheich." (Newsweek)
  • Kenya cracks down on opposition, exiling one and forcing others to surrender their passports. "Kenyan authorities forced a key opposition backer to leave the country after his arrest triggered protests, as the state ordered other government opponents to surrender their passports…Kenya’s government is cracking down on the opposition after National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga swore himself in as the so-called people’s president at a mock inauguration ceremony on Jan. 30. Supporters of the alliance, known as Nasa, reject the outcome of an October presidential election, which was a repeat of an annulled August ballot that handed President Uhuru Kenyatta a second term." (Bloomberg)
  • The danger of China's coming surveillance state. Anna Mitchell and Larry Diamond explore how China "is racing to become the first to implement a pervasive system of algorithmic surveillance. Harnessing advances in artificial intelligence and data mining and storage to construct detailed profiles on all citizens, China’s communist party-state is developing a 'citizen score' to incentivize 'good' behavior. A vast accompanying network of surveillance cameras will constantly monitor citizens’ movements, purportedly to reduce crime and terrorism. (The Atlantic)


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