Today in OpenGov: A White House response to your petition


In today’s edition, a White House advisor rides the revolving door back to Wall Street, a Slovakian journalists murder may have mafia ties, Wisconsin loses its elections chief, and much more.


  • The White House responded to the most popular White House e-petition in history, claiming that “this petition is not within the scope of the Terms of Participation of We the People, as the President’s decision regarding whether to release the tax returns does not address an action or policy of the Federal Government.” We don’t find that to be a satisfactory response. (The Hill)
  • Are budget cuts and White House apathy threatening federal open data programs? As Federal Computer Week reports, experts are concerned — particularly about the Census. “Government data every day informs decisions in policy, farming, business and countless other fields, but open data experts worry the accuracy and accessibility of that information are threatened amid sparse funding and apathy from the Trump administration,” according to this report byJack Corrigan. Panelists at an event yesterday said that, despite the White House’s continued affirmation of commitment to open data, “many agencies are finding their data collecting abilities impeded by tightening budgets and staff cuts,” which the White House doesn’t seem to have much interest in changing. (NextGov)
  • Rick Gates’ legal defense fund will get a boost from K Street. “A Republican lobbyist said Tuesday he was organizing a fundraiser next month to help pay the legal bills of Rick Gates, the former K Streeter who pleaded guilty last week in the expanding special counsel probe of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.” (Roll Call)
  • As Jared Kushner’s security clearance is downgraded to secret, reports emerge that foreign officials have discussed how to leverage his business ties, and lack of government experience against him. “Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter…Kushner’s interim security clearance was downgraded last week from the top-secret to the secret level, which should restrict the regular access he has had to highly classified information, according to administration officials.” (Washington Post)
  • Meanwhile, Trump allies who haven’t been accused of crimes but are nonetheless caught up in the Russia investigation will get their own legal fund. “Allies of President Donald Trump have created a new fund to cover legal expenses for administration officials and associates caught up in Russia probes led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and various congressional committees, according to a person familiar with the matter. The project, named the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust, will operate as a tax-exempt political organization under section 527 of the tax code, according to documents posted to the website of the Office of Government Ethics. (Bloomberg)

Washington Watch

  • White House Advisor Dina Powell to spin back through the “revolving door” to Goldman Sachs. “When bankers walk out of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to take influential jobs in politics and policy, which they’ve been doing for decades, they sometimes leave with a pledge to keep a polite distance from their old firm. That doesn’t mean they don’t go home again. By returning to Goldman Sachs less than a year and a half after she left as a partner for a role in the Trump administration, Dina Powell is joining an elite club of alumni who made the round trip.” (Bloomberg)
  • Senate Democrats officially launched an effort to reverse FCC net neutrality repeal. “Congressional Democrats today introduced a long-promised resolution aimed at undoing the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the net neutrality rules. Spearheaded by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the measure would reverse the FCC’s December decision to repeal the Obama-era regulations. It would do so via the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to nix agency rules, within 60 days of their publication in the Federal Register, by a simple majority vote.” Despite having nearly enough support to guarantee passage in the Senate, the resolution is not expected to make it all the way through Congress. (POLITICO)
  • The Brennan Center proposed five ways to boost accountability, transparency, and understanding of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Liza Goitein and Robert Litt who “took different positions in the overall debate on Section 702. But [they] agree that there is an important step the U.S. government can take now to bolster transparency and accountability within the program without unduly burdening legitimate intelligence activities.” Their analysis lays out five features that should be included in “procedures by which agencies will be able to query data collected under Section 702,” required to be adopted under the recently passed FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act. (Brennan Center for Justice)

States and Cities

  • A New Jersey town wants to take some extreme steps to control how people record its public meetings. “A Warren County town wants to restrict how residents record its meetings. But an open-government group is concerned the proposed rules — which could include a hefty fine or jail time for violators — will chill all forms of public participation. If enacted, the ordinance being considered by the Mansfield Township Committee (which you can read here) would require residents to provide at least an hour notice of their intent to record video, set up in specific locations and refrain from moving or packing up during a committee meeting, among other restrictions.” (Lehigh Valley Live)
  • The Chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission plans to step down amid partisan pressure. “The head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission said he would move out of his leadership role and eventually leave the agency because of opposition from Republican lawmakers.” (Journal Sentinel)
  • Reminder: There are only seven days left to submit comments on Cary, North Carolina’s draft open data policy!

Around the World

  • A Slovakian journalist was murdered – and it may be linked to his reporting on the Italian mafia. “A story about the Italian Mafia stealing European Union development cash in Slovakia may have prompted the murder of an investigative journalist in the eastern European country last week. Jan Kuciak, a 27 year-old reporter for, and his fiancee were found shot dead in their house near the capital city Bratislava on Sunday — the first high-profile murder of a journalist since Slovakia’s 1993 independence. His investigative reporting work was the most likely motive, but authorities haven’t completely ruled out other leads, Police President Tibor Gaspar said on Tuesday.” (Bloomberg)
  • Sao Paulo Brazil is blocking critics from its official Facebook page. “Moderators for the official Facebook page of São Paulo’s city hall are actively blocking users and banning words used to mock the current mayor Joao Dória, according to a new report by Ingrid Alfaya for local news site R7. With 350k followers, the page is a popular communication channel between citizens of Brazil’s largest city and its administration.” (Global Voices)
  • Changes in data collection methodology emerge as political issue ahead of Indian elections. “Over the last few years, multiple changes to how India uses and calculates crucial data — from economic growth and inflation to jobs and taxes — has sparked a debate on credibility of government data once hailed for its rigor…With Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking re-election in 2019, this data is now being targeted at voters. Modi’s recent claim that 7 million new jobs had been created in one year — one of his key election promises when he swept to power in 2014 — was countered by political rivals.” (Bloomberg)

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