Today in OpenGov: All the President’s Rent

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In today's edition, a year of public mendacity takes its toll on White House credibility, potential 2020 presidential contenders shun corporate PAC money, the Trump's are collecting $175 million in previously un-explored rent, Israeli police recommend corruption charges against the prime minister, New Mexico faces challenges as it tries to implement transparency reforms, and more.

CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST

Quote of the Day: “In this White House, it’s simply not in our DNA. Truthful and transparent is great, but we don’t even have a coherent strategy to obfuscate.”
– An unnamed White House official in the Washington Post, when asked if Chief of Staff John F. Kelly "could have been more transparent or truthful" in relation to the ongoing drama associated with domestic violence allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter. 

DNA therapy is not an option for an administration, but Congressional oversight could help hold this presidency accountable. The American people deserve a White House that is both transparent and truthful. This president has been neither, and the tone set from the top has spread to the White House, agencies and Members of Congress.

The erosion of trust in public statements by the President of the United States and his administration has dangerous consequences for public safety and security, should the nation or world be faced with a natural disaster, pandemic or open war.

The most glaring issue this morning is President Trump's continued refusal to acknowledge that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election or that it's doing so in other democracies.

Instead of being transparent, informing the nation about what happened and how the U.S. government is responding, we see doubt and discord sown on a daily basis, despite the accumulating weight of evidence to the contrary.

Yesterday, the heads of the U.S. government's intelligence community told the public in an open Senate hearing that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and that it is already doing so in the 2018 midterm election.

“The more transparency we can provide to the American people, to people of nations that see this threat coming, the better off we will be," said Dan Coats, director of National Intelligence.  “Obviously, we have to take other measures, but we need to inform the American public that this is real, this is going to be happening, and the resilience needed for us to stand up and say we won't allow some Russian to tell us how to vote, how to run our country.” (ODNI statement)

We agree. Congress and the people who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution need to do their duty if the President and his White House will not.

washington watch

  • Revealing Congress' Ethics Blind Spot. "A new report from Issue One details how in at least 175 public and confidential ethics investigations over the past decade. the House Ethics Committee has compiled a record that fails to foster a culture of high ethical standards in Congress. The Committee’s tepid interpretations of ethics rules and timid approach to enforcement undermines public confidence in the integrity of one of the key institutions of our democratic republic." (Issue One)
  • Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, eyeing 2020 presidential bids, disavowed corporate PAC money. "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is pledging to refuse contributions from corporate PACs — a move that puts her in a small group of national Democrats and sets a new bar on the issue of campaign finance for other potential presidential candidates in 2020. Gillibrand stopped accepting corporate PAC money on Jan. 1, an aide said." (BuzzFeed) Meanwhile, "Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said Tuesday night he will no longer accept campaign contributions from corporate PACs, joining several other Democratic lawmakers." (The Hill)
  • The Bureau of Land Management wants to limit the number of FOIA requests a person or organization can make to the agency. "The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management has finalized a set of recommendations that would overhaul the way it permits energy exploration and other activities on public land by streamlining environmental reviews…the report and its accompanying appendices [also] call for…legislation that would limit the number of Freedom of Information Act requests a person or organization could submit to the agency." (Washington PostOur take? Congress should deny this particular FOIA request. 
  • Despite a unanimous FEC vote to extended political ad disclaimer requirements to Facebook, compliance remains minimal. "Hundreds of federal political ads — including those from major players such as the Democratic National Committee and the Donald Trump 2020 campaign — are running on Facebook without adequate disclaimer language, likely violating Federal Election Commission rules, a review by ProPublica has found." (ProPublica) Our take? Congress should move to ensure that transparency isn't optional. 
  • Twitter feature allows opaque ad campaigns is being leveraged to run dark social influence campaigns. Libby Watson explains how, "over the past year or so, Twitter users have noticed at least two bizarre ad campaigns that don’t link to a real Twitter account, or have any presence on the web at all: Heartland Priorities and the Middle America Project. Using a Twitter Ads feature that allows advertisers to create promoted tweets that aren’t linked to any permanent profile, these fake organizations are running ads on a number of important public policy issues. Thanks to Twitter’s complete lack of transparency (and refusal to comment for this story), we have no idea who they are." (Splinter News)

trumplandIA

  • Trump properties collect $175 million in rent annually from foreign governments, big banks, and more. "More than 150 tenants—from foreign governments to big banks—throw him some $175 million a year without an accounting of who they are or how much they pay. Until now." (Forbes)
  • Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have added millions of dollars in debt since joining the White House. "Jared Kushner, a White House aide and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, appears to have drawn more money out of three separate lines of credit in the months after he joined the White House last year, a newly released document shows. Recent revisions to the financial disclosure form filed by Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, bumped up each of those debts to a range of $5 million to $25 million." (POLITICO)
  • Despite funding bump, experts fear President Trump's budget still shortchanges the Census in a critical moment. "As the Census Bureau looks down the home stretch toward the 2020 population count, experts say the proposed $3.8 billion in the FY 2019 budget isn't enough. While that figure constitutes a $2.3 billion boost over the enacted fiscal year 2017 level funding, the bureau faces daunting challenges to stand up the infrastructure and workforce to execute on the decennial census." (Federal Computer Week)

around the world

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Image via Chatham House.
  • Israeli police recommended corruption charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following a year-long corruption investigation, the Israeli police recommended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud & breach of trust. Israel's attorney general will now decide whether to formally file charges. (New York Times)
  • In a new report, European watchdog knocks Council of the European Union for opacity. "The report presents the findings of an inquiry into the notoriously opaque lawmaking processes of the EU body, which the European Ombudsman said 'inhibit the scrutiny of draft EU legislation.' Specifically, the report criticized the Council of the EU — which consists of representatives from national governments and is responsible for coordinating EU policy — for not making the positions of individual EU countries public during discussions of draft legislation, and for consistently restricting access to documents." (POLITICO)
  • Despite being asked to resign, South African president will be given time to step down. "The African National Congress will replace Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa, but is giving him time to leave office." According to this report, a deadline has not been set for his departure. (Bloomberg)

states and cities

The New Mexico State Capitol, also known as the "Roundhouse." Image credit: Heath Haussamen.
  • Fights to improve transparency in New Mexico face a variety of challenges. "Gov. Susana Martinez wants each state lawmaker to disclose how much he or she spends on projects around the state. Making their emails public would be nice, too. However, the governor isn’t keen on sharing information about legal settlements the state negotiates. As for state lawmakers, they aren’t rushing to support calls from Martinez or some of their colleagues to shine more more light on how the Legislature works. Legislation that would help New Mexicans better understand state government is going nowhere fast in the legislative session that ends Thursday, a review by New Mexico In Depth found." (NM Politics)
  • Data-focused offices are gaining momentum in cities across the country. "The names of the offices vary: Office of Innovation, Department of Performance and Accountability, Office of the Chief Technology Officer. But these citywide teams have plenty in common. Made up of data scientists, technologists, and engineers, the departments tasked with pioneering interventions in data analysis, predictive analytics, and other initiatives that fall under the innovation umbrella of “smart cities” are new, lean, and very, very busy." (Data-Smart City Solutions)
  • Battle brews in Washington State over effort to exempt state employees' birth dates from disclosure. The Seattle Times Editorial Board weighed in against proposed changes to Washington laws that would exclude the birth dates of state workers from public disclosure & only disclose birth year in public voter rolls. (Seattle Times) We believe that finding a balance between privacy and transparency is a vital to opening data. Legislatures and regulators should apply a public interest balancing test when considering  mandatory disclosure of personally identifiable information.

 

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