In today's edition, we invite you to celebrate Open Data Day with us, Public Citizen scores a victory in its fight for White House visitor logs, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai faces scrutiny, we're looking for international lessons on defending democracy, and more.
states and cities
- Celebrate Open Data Day by helping us finish the 2018 U.S. City Open Data Census! Join the Sunlight Foundation Open Cities team on Open Data Day 2018 (Saturday, March 3) to help assess open data in American cities. We’ll be filling out the City Open Data Census together and invite you to join us. We’ll give you an easy tutorial on how to search for open datasets and how to add that information to the Census. Then you’ll pick a city to focus on and complete its entry. We'll be hosting events in Washington, DC, New York City, and online via Google Hangout. Get all the details on the Sunlight Blog.
- State officials to get classified updates on 2018 election threats. "With the threat of Russian interference continuing to loom over American elections, U.S. intelligence authorities are arming state officials with classified updates on risks to their electoral systems ahead of this year’s midterm races." (Bloomberg)
- California considers building an agency charged with overseeing how tech companies use personal data. "As Silicon Valley companies collect an ever-growing amount of data about their users, a Bay Area-based state legislator wants to create a California regulatory agency to protect personal information. Assemblymember Marc Levine, a Marin County Democrat, early this week introduced Assembly Bill 2182, which would create the California Data Protection Authority (CDPA) to regulate Californians’ personal data on the internet." (Government Technology)
- Federal court upholds New York State law requiring nonprofits to disclose large donors. "New York may require the public disclosure of donors who give more than $5,000 to nonprofits in the state, an appeals court said…Citizens United sued New York in 2014, saying the rule infringed upon its First Amendment rights and that its donors could face public backlash if their support was disclosed. On Thursday, a federal appeals court in New York upheld a lower-court ruling saying the regulations are 'substantially related to the important interest in keeping non-profit organizations honest' and don’t wrongly 'chill the speech' of Citizens United or its donors." (Bloomberg)
- How K Street is changing to fit the Trump era. "Political upheaval, partisan stalemate on Capitol Hill and technological innovations have all disrupted and transformed the much-maligned, $4 billion-a-year federal lobbying business. But the Donald Trump presidency, the GOP-controlled Congress and a resulting surge of grass-roots resistance — on the streets and the internet — have catapulted the lobbying sector into uncertain, though still plenty lucrative, terrain." (Roll Call)
- Trump inaugural committee spending revealed. Includes $26 million for an adviser to the First Lady, $5 million to charity. "President Trump’s inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by an adviser to the first lady, Melania Trump, while donating $5 million — less than expected — to charity, according to tax filings released on Thursday. (New York Times)
- Trump administration settles lawsuit, agrees to post visitor logs for certain White House offices. "The Trump administration has agreed to settle a pending lawsuit by making monthly public postings of details on visitors to some parts of the White House, such as the Office of Management and Budget and the drug czar's office. However, there is no sign the Trump White House plans to reverse its decision to abandon the Obama administration's policy of releasing information on visitors to the White House's core offices, including the senior officials in the West Wing." The suit was originally filed last august by Public Citizen, who argued "that the Secret Service had illegally rebuffed requests for visitor logs for White House offices covered by the Freedom of Information Act." (POLITICO) You can read Public Citizen's response to the news here.
- How President Trump's decision to declassify controversial GOP Memo could alter other records fights. "The legal waves created by President Donald Trump’s decision to declassify a Republican memo suggesting FBI wrongdoing continued to crash ashore on Thursday, with a federal judge saying the president’s move had undermined government arguments that it should be able to keep mum about its ongoing investigations." (POLITICO)
- Legal questions remain around payment from President Trump's personal lawyer to porn star. Eli Watkins reports "President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen has declared a payment he orchestrated to a porn star to be "lawful," but legal experts say the matter is far from settled. Cohen said in a statement Tuesday evening that he facilitated a $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, in 2016. His statement followed a legal complaint from the campaign finance watchdog Common Cause, which called for investigations into whether the payment — reportedly made to stop Clifford from speaking about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006 — violated campaign finance law." Experts, including Sunlight's John Wonderlich, focused on the ultimate source of the payment. "The biggest point to me is the denial was very specific and leaves open that Donald Trump himself was involved…That's the kind of arrangement that would be concerning," Wonderlich said. "How many other illicit payments has Trump made?" (CNN)
- FCC Inspector General looking into relationship between Chairman Ajit Pai and Sinclair Broadcasting. "Last April, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, led the charge for his agency to approve rules allowing television broadcasters to greatly increase the number of stations they own. A few weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a blockbuster $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — a deal those new rules made possible. By the end of the year, in a previously undisclosed move, the top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair, according to Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey and two congressional aides." (New York Times)
- Bipartisan group of Representatives calls on President Trump to fill vacant FEC seats. "On Wednesday, Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Ken Buck (R-CO) and 12 other lawmakers of both parties are calling on President Donald Trump to immediately recommend nominees to fill vacancies on the Federal Election Commission (FEC)." (Issue One)
- Chief of Staff for Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-AZ) faces ethics complaint over multiple jobs. "A complaint filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics accuses Representative David Schweikert's top staffer of essentially pulling two salaries, putting him in violation of federal law. Oliver Schwab has served as Schweikert's chief of staff since the Scottsdale Republican first entered Congress in 2011. As of September 2017, Schwab was making $168,411 a year in that role. Starting in 2014, he also started raking in income from Chartwell Associates, a consulting firm that he runs out of his condo in Alexandria, Virginia." (Phoenix New Times)
- Despite public interest objections, the National Archived approved a plan that would allow the CIA to destroy records after 30 years. "The National Archives and Records Administration formally approved a CIA records retention schedule that allows the agency to destroy information that is more than 30 years old – in spite of the warnings from public interest groups and others arguing that permitting the spy agency to delete the records will likely result in the destruction of a large number of potentially important documents." (National Security Archive)
a little help from our friends
Help us defend democracy by share your lessons from around the world.American democratic norms and values are facing serious challenges, from deep polarization, to the erosion of public trust in institutions, political capture by special interests, and more. That's why we are working with the Open Gov Hub and Global Integrity in collaboration with Transparency International to present Defending Democracy: Lessons from Around the World.
This new program aims to support American democracy advocates and journalists to grapple with these challenges by learning from similar experiences abroad – especially around the themes of combating corruption, preserving civic and press freedoms, and maintaining free and fair elections.
To best meet the needs and interests of organizations and individuals like you, we invite you to complete this 5-question, one minute long Defending Democracy Survey. Your response will inform the design of our monthly “Democracy Dialogues” event series, and will help us focus on what short case studies we'll produce this year – highlighting lessons from abroad relevant for responding to current challenges to American democracy.
Questions? Please contact the program organizer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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