Today in OpenGov: Charitable


In today's edition, nondisclosure agreements in Congress, one of President Trump's top fundraisers embraces the lobbying life, the NYPD tries to keep secrets, open data in Nepal, and more.  

washington watch

  • New report finds corporations use charitable giving as a stealth avenue of influence. "By law, corporations and organizations that lobby the federal government must disclose certain charitable contributions to nonprofits…that are intimately tied to lawmakers. They also must disclose spending to 'honor' lawmakers and high-level executive branch officials if the spending meets certain criteria. But a Center for Public Integrity analysis found more than 20 companies and trade associations that have failed to disclose payments made to nonprofit groups aligned with government officials or aimed at honoring lawmakers they may want to influence." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Want to serve as an unpaid congressional intern? You might have to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Rachel Wolfe reports that for "unpaid interns on Capitol Hill, secrecy is so much a part of the job that on their first day, many are required to sign sweeping nondisclosure agreements. Employment lawyers reviewed two Hill NDAs obtained by Vox and said they are written in a way that could discourage interns from speaking up about anything, potentially protecting members of Congress and their staff even in cases of harassment or abuse." (Vox)
  • Six tech companies team up for suit over net neutrality repeal. "Six technology companies, including Kickstarter, Foursquare and Etsy, have launched a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an effort to preserve net neutrality rules. The companies, which also include Shutterstock, Expa and Automattic, on Monday filed their petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit." Mozilla, Vimeo, and several state attorneys general have already filed similar suits. (The Hill)
  • IBM goes on record in support of online political ad transparency, Honest Ads Act. In a post on the THINKPolicy blog Christopher A. Padilla, Vice President, IBM Government and Regulatory Affairs stated that "IBM supports legislation sponsored by Senators Warner, Klobuchar and McCain that would require transparency and disclosure for online political advertising, just as has long been required for political ads on television, radio, and in print." (IBM THINKPolicy Blog) Our view? We're glad that IBM supports this important initiative and hope that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Oath, and other companies endorse a level playing field for transparency and accountability for Internet platforms and support overdue reforms for disclosure and disclaimers.


  • How this former Florida fundraiser leveraged his Trump ties into a lucrative lobbying career. "A stranger to Washington has emerged as a winner in the ruthless world of lobbying in the nation’s capital, thanks in part to his ties to President Donald Trump. Brian Ballard, the Florida fundraiser often sought out by Republican presidential candidates, was best known in Tallahassee until election night 2016. When the state was called for Trump, Ballard’s cellphone lit up with clients looking for a guide into the new administration." In 2017, Ballard's firm made nearly $10 million in lobbying fees, the "most of any new K Street arrival in the two decades such records have been available." (Bloomberg)
  • President Trump invites Dow Chemical lawyer through revolving door for key EPA role. "President Donald Trump on Friday tapped a chemical industry insider to run the Environmental Protection Agency office that oversees emergency response to hazardous spills and cleanups of the nation's most toxic sites. The White House announced that Trump has nominated Peter C. Wright to serve as EPA's assistant administrator for Land and Emergency Management. Wright has worked as a corporate lawyer at Dow Chemical Co. since 1999." (Associated Press)
  • Settlements with New Jersey regulators highlight consistent Trump approach. Peter Elkind explores how President Trump settled two disputes "with state regulators over damaged wetlands and excess water use at his New Jersey golf courses" before taking office. The episodes, he argues, "provide a revealing anatomy of the five primary stages of Trump response. They could be summarized as DelayDissembleShift BlameHaggle and Get Personally Involved. (The elements can be used in any order, more than once.) Often, there’s a sixth stage, too: Offer a job to one of the key players on the opposing side." (ProPublica)
  • $120 million was allocated for the State Department to fight foreign meddling in U.S. elections. They haven't spent any of it. "Let's focus for a moment on two numbers. The first is 120 million. That is how many dollars have been allocated to the State Department to counter Russian and other foreign efforts to interfere in U.S. elections. The second number is zero. Zero dollars is how much of that money the State Department has, in fact, spent." (NPR)

states and cities

The Empire State Building. Credit: Brian Lauer.
  • New report reveals troubling trends in NYPD Police misconduct data, which is shielded by state law.  "Secret files obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal that from 2011 to 2015 at least 319 New York Police Department employees who committed offenses serious enough to merit firing were allowed to keep their jobs…New York is one of only three states, along with Delaware and California, that has a law specifically shielding police misconduct records from the public, according to a study conducted by WNYC in 2015. In recent years, the NYPD has doubled down on its stringent legal interpretation of those laws, even as departments around the country face growing public pressure to be more transparent about police misconduct." (BuzzFeed) Our view? Cities and states should prioritize building public trust regarding ethics and accountability. That goal means transparency is necessary but insufficient, starting with public disclosure of police misconduct data.
  • Former aide's corruption trial complicates New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's political future. "Over the last six weeks, federal prosecutors in Manhattan unspooled a streaming spectacle of unflattering tales of how Mr. Cuomo, 60, conducts himself and how his administration has conducted the people’s business in Albany…The governor has not been accused of illegal acts…Nonetheless, the corruption trial [of former aide Joseph Percoco], which enters its fourth day of jury deliberations on Tuesday, may well tarnish the well-groomed reputation of Mr. Cuomo, a second-term Democrat facing re-election in the fall." (New York Times)
  • This Colorado Representative wants the state judiciary to be subject to open records laws. "State Rep. Polly Lawrence is trying once again to make the administrative records of Colorado’s judicial branch subject to the Colorado Open Records Act. House Bill 18-1152, introduced earlier this week, is the Roxborough Park Republican’s third consecutive attempt to cover the judiciary under CORA. That doesn’t include her 2015 proposal to make the state public defender’s office comply with the public records law." (Pagosa Daily Post via NFOIC)

around the world

The Beta version of Open Data Nepal launched on Open Data Day 2018. 
  • Open Knowledge Nepal looks to increase public access to public data with new website. "The Open Data Nepal portal aims to make Nepal’s data accessible online perpetually in a central hub. The data available in the portal is harvested and crowdsourced from different public agencies and international organizations who work under the government of Nepal. One of the main features includes converting data into a machine-readable format like CSV, JSON or TSV, along with metadata and further description. The portal can be used by researchers, journalists, private agencies, students, developers and Nepali citizens to meet their data needs." (Open Knowledge)
  • Following public outcry, Poland may eliminate politically appointed positions, bonuses for top officials. "Poland wants to eliminate as much as a quarter of 126 deputy ministers and scrap bonuses for top government brass following an outcry over end-of-year payouts for politically appointed state officials, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Monday." (Bloomberg
  • How will Europe deal with ethics and accountability in Artificial Intelligence? Nirvi Shah explains that, in this new report from POLITICO EU "on the future of artificial intelligence, we explore the technology’s implications. Are people ready to trust their lives to driverless cars? What about an AI doctor? Who’s to blame when price-setting algorithms work together to collude?" (POLITICO)


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