Today in OpenGov: Watching the watchers


In today's edition, we stay up to date on President Trump's conflicts, a major tech trade group lines up to support a Senate effort to bring back net neutrality, 9 cities are certified as open data pioneers, a tool to monitor political ads on Facebook gains traction, and more. 


  • Celebrate Friday with the latest edition of This Week in Conflicts. In the new edition of our weekly feature, we tune into ProPublica and WNYC’s new podcast, take note of a conflict at the NLRB, highlight federal funds going to the Trump International Hotel in DC, and look at how Kushner’s properties in NYC are doing. Looking ahead, on March 3, the GOP and the President will host a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, a private Trump club. As with past events, that means President Donald J. Trump will make an emolumental profit from hosting another campaign fundraiser at one of his businesses. As the Washington Post reports, political cash has become a growing revenue stream at the president’s properties. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Brookings Institute scholars argue that threats to government data are threats to democracy. Andre Perry and Katherine Guyot explain, "the federal government bears few responsibilities as weighty as its obligation to be a good steward of data and information. From shaping our congressional districts, to understanding students’ academic progress; from informing budget priorities and their impact on future generations, to simply knowing how many people live in the country; the quality of our policies and policymaking are contingent upon the data they’re based upon. As an organization that relies on data, researchers at the Brookings Institution are paying close attention to the Trump administration’s management of data." (Government Executive)
  • Top White House staff to receive phones specifically for political calls. "The White House will allow as many as a dozen senior advisers to receive additional cell phones so that they can contact the Republican National Committee (RNC) regarding the fall midterm elections, officials said Thursday…The move is designed to allow top aides to coordinate political activities with the RNC without breaking federal ethics and record-keeping laws or the White House’s recent ban on personal devices in the West Wing." (The Hill)
  • Charity books gala at Mar-a-Lago, citing hope that President Trump will "stop by." "A pro-Israel charity has scheduled its first fundraiser gala at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club — choosing that venue in hopes that Trump 'would be able to stop by,' the charity’s founder said Thursday…That event is the latest sign that Mar-a-Lago’s social calendar — and its entire business model — have been rearranged by Trump’s tumultuous first year in office." (Washington Post)
  • How the White House is trying to undermine Congressional authority to release classified information. Daniel Schuman explains that White House Counsel Don "McGahn’s cover note released with the Nunes memo essentially asserts, without stating directly, that the House or Senate’s release of classified information to the public may happen only at the sufferance of the Executive Branch. This is a misreading of the law and a misunderstanding of Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government with oversight powers over the Executive." (Just Security)

washington watch

Rob Bliss protesting the FCC's net neutrality roll back by holding up traffic in front of their headquarters last week.
  • Top tech trade group supports Senate effort to reverse FCC net neutrality repeal. "A trade group representing internet giants including Google and Facebook is throwing its support behind a bill that would reverse the repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality rules. The Internet Association (IA) on Thursday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) arguing that the FCC rules should be reinstated." (The Hill)
  • Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) appears to reverse pledge to refuse PAC money now that he's in office. "After pledging not to take corporate PAC money during his 2017 campaign for Congress, Rep. Greg Gianforte accepted nearly $20,000 in corporate PAC donations during the fourth quarter of 2017…Asked if he would make a similar pledge not to accept that money later in his 2018 campaign, Gianforte  — who had just boarded an elevator off the House floor — looked down and shook his head, letting the elevator doors close." (Roll Call)
  • Investigation into Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) for misusing campaign funds accelerates. "The criminal investigation into Rep. Duncan Hunter is intensifying as a grand jury in San Diego questions multiple former aides about whether the California Republican improperly diverted political funds for personal use. Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Hunter’s parents, as well as a female lobbyist with whom many people close to the congressman believe he had a romantic relationship, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation." (POLITICO)
  • Sunlight joins coalition calling for transparency and accountability reforms in the intelligence community. In a letter sent to Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and the chair and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, we and our allies urge lawmakers to “enact meaningful reforms addressing transparency and oversight of the intelligence community while protecting classified information and the nation’s security." Read the full letter and recommendations at OpenTheGovernment.

states and cities

Image via FastCompany
  • Open data certification starts with these 9 cities. Ben Paytner highlights "the first nine cities to earn Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities Certification, a national standard honoring metros that have launched excellent data collection policies and use evidence-backed strategies in governance. The system has three tiers–silver, gold, and platinum–with each weighted according to how much of Bloomberg’s criteria for better city building each place has satisfied." New certifications will be awarded annually with winners continuously audited to ensure they’re still maintaining standards. (Fast Company)
  • San Diego's data catalog helps citizens, government workers, and more. Jack Vaughan tells the story of Maksim Pecherskiy, San Diego's first Chief Data Officer, and his efforts "to create a data catalog of the many data assets of the city's many departments…As the process unfolded, Pecherskiy found a welcome side effect to the opening up of data for San Diego residents — a data catalog proved a big step toward opening up data to San Diego city workers, as well." (Search Data Management)
  • Following hearing, questions still remain around failure to re-appoint Washington DC's open government watchdog. Alex Howard attended yesterday's DC Council hearing on the DC Board of Ethics and Government Accountability's decision not to re-appoint the director of the DC Open Government Office. The takeaway? The people of DC deserve better answers about what happened, why, and what's next for open government in DC. 

around the world

  • Tool to monitor online political ads on Facebook used around the world. "The tool, dubbed the Political Ad Collector, gathers ads from the Facebook feeds of any users who install it in their web browser, and identifies which ones are political. It has been installed by more than 3,000 people and is being used by journalists at 10 outlets in the U.S. and seven other countries. Organizations in two other countries plan to start using the PAC soon." (ProPublica) Our take? This is important, laudable accountability journalism by ProPublica, but they shouldn't have to do it. Facebook should be disclosing a paid political ad file online. 
  • Members of British Parliament were in Washington this week to grill tech companies on "fake news." "British MPs [clashed] with Big Tech during a hearing on fake news Thursday and, like everything else in British politics, Brexit [was] front and center. The cross-party group of MPs arrived in Washington this week to grill executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google on fake news and its impact on British politics." (POLITICO)
  • Former Prime Minister of Bangladesh jailed in corruption case. "A Dhaka court sentenced former Bangladesh prime minister Khaleda Zia to five years in prison for embezzling around $250,000 in foreign aid, sparking fears of violence." In announcing their intent to appeal, Zia's lawyer argued that the move was purely intended to keep her from running in upcoming elections. (Bloomberg)


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