In today's edition, we kick off Sunshine Week, the Trump Organization reveals the foreign profits it donated to the Treasury, Regulations.gov shakes up its API policy, the state of journalism in Europe may not be so free, and more.
rays of sunshine
Cartoon by Ann Telnaes for the Washington Post.
Sunshine Week is underway! We'll be doing our best to highlight some of the great events, reports, and stories highlighting the state of transparency and open government in the United States throughout the week.
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Today's rays of sunshine include:
- This afternoon at 1:00 pm the National Archives will host a Sunshine Week event exploring innovation, digital civic engagement, open data, and more. Sunlight's Alex Howard will moderate a panel on the roadmap for open data. Check out the whole agenda, register to attend, or stream it live starting at 1 pm! Also today, the Department of Justice will be hosting their annual Sunshine Week kickoff event from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm in Washington, DC. Get all the details here.
- New report highlights increased secrecy in White House, Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Homeland Security. On Friday, Open The Government released a new report "Closing Democracy’s Window: The Growing Culture of Secrecy in Washington and the Erosion of the Public’s Right to Know, at a Newseum forum in advance of Sunshine Week 2018 (March 11-17)." The investigation found "a rapid erosion of openness, the crumbling of norms, frequent and ongoing disparagement of the media, efforts to stonewall information requests, manipulation of data, and outright suppression of facts,” during the first year of the Trump Administration. You can read the full report here. (Open The Government)
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation hands out the "Foilies", honoring the worst in government transparency. As Dave Maass, Aaron Mackey, and Camille Fischer explain, "when a public agency ignores, breaks or twists the law, your recourse varies by jurisdiction. In some states, when an official improperly responds to your public records request, you can appeal to a higher bureaucratic authority or seek help from an ombudsperson. In most states, you can take the dispute to court. Public shaming and sarcasm, however, are tactics that can be applied anywhere." Read about all of the "winners" right here.
- Seven of 2017's biggest public records stories out of North Carolina. Tyler Dukes shares "seven of the biggest stories from the last year of public records reporting," explaining how, "in ways both large and small, public records and open meetings form the foundation of much of our reporting at WRAL News, whether on the daily beat or during deep-dive investigations… and throughout the last year, reporters at WRAL News have used records to reveal and explain how policies created and implemented by local, state and federal officials impact North Carolina residents – for good or for ill." (WRAL)
- Thursday, March 15th from 11 am – 12 pm, in Washington, DC: A training for public interest advocates on working with whistleblowers. "Information that exposes serious abuses of public trust can create accountability and reform. Whistleblowers can be critical to the work of public interest organizations across a wide range of issues." The Open GovHub, Public Citizen, Open The Government, and the Government Accountability Project will host a training on best practices for working with whistleblowers. Learn more and register to attend here.
- Don't forget to register for Sunlight's Sunshine Week events! On Tuesday, we'll be talking environmental transparency with the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Project on Government Oversight. Then, on Thursday, we'll explore the state of open government with some of the nation’s foremost experts on ethics and open government. Learn more here.
- Trump Organization reveals that it donated $151,470 in foreign profit to the Treasury. "The Trump Organization has transferred $151,470 in profits earned from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, a company executive said on Friday. George Sorial, the Trump Organization’s executive vice president and chief compliance counsel, said the donation made good on the company’s promise to return any profits earned from foreign governments during President Donald Trump’s administration." (POLITICO)
- Experts Stephen Schooner and Kathleen Clark weigh in on the donation, calling the reveal "nothing more than a publicity stunt." They write, "For that low—and certainly inadequate—sum, the Trumps bought some positive news coverage from a few media outlets. Compliance experts and serious journalists were more skeptical. The announcement raised more questions than it answered and highlighted this administration’s disregard for norms of transparency, ethics, and the public interest. This was nothing more than a publicity stunt." (Government Executive)
- Trump Organization and Kushner Companies reportedly in discussions over New Jersey development. "Jared Kushner’s family company recently began construction on an oceanfront development in this Jersey Shore city, a project that has the strong backing of local officials, who agreed to support it with $20 million in bonds. But unknown to Long Branch officials, the Kushners have been in talks to team up with another family-run company that has an even bigger presence in the White House: the Trump Organization." (New York Times)
- Ivanka Trump never divested from the Trump Organization, raising conflicts. "Ivanka Trump — a senior White House adviser who is doing everything from lobbying the Senate on tax policy to representing her father at a G20 summit of world leaders — will pull in more than $1 million a year from the family business that has continued to develop luxury resorts across the globe during the Trump presidency. Some of those Trump-branded developments are hiring state-owned companies for construction, receiving gifts from foreign governments in the form of public land or eased regulations and accepting payments from customers who are foreign officials." (McClatchy DC) We'll be adding this to our ongoing list of Trump conflicts of interest.
- Four cabinet officials reportedly scolded by White House over ethics scandals. "The White House held private meetings with four Cabinet-level officials last month to scold them for embarrassing stories about questionable ethical behavior at their respective agencies, sources familiar with the sessions tell CNN." (CNN) Our view? The fundamental issue is not bad “optics,” nor journalism that holds Cabinet secretaries to account. It’s the ethical failings that have led to these stories, enabled by the tone set from the top on ethics by President Trump.
- This Week in Conflicts? Panama, Vancouver, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Lynn Walsh continued her weekly look at Trump administration conflicts. This week, she wrote, "the standoff in Panama involving the Trump Organization and the hotel owner has ended, but ethics experts are worried the problems could be just beginning. New questions surrounding the Kushner Companies loans have emerged. and the FBI is looking into the Trump hotel deal in Vancouver." (Sunlight Foundation)
- More sunshine on health data will empower patients and caregivers. Alex Howard reflected on the fact that "future of healthcare is already here, from personalized medicine to telemedicine to mobile devices to electronic health records to robotic surgery, but it’s still not evenly distributed." Luckily, despite initial concerns that the Trump administration would not continue his predecessor's focus on access to health data, "recent signals from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, however, suggest that personal data access, interoperability, an affirmative right to access records, investments in modernization, and adoption of digital health records are still national priorities under a Trump administration." (Sunlight Foundation)
- Nearly 100,000 public comments on controversial sage grouse protection plan missing, advocates say. "Environmentalists registered their discontent over the reopening of the Obama-era conservation plan to protect the greater sage grouse, a bird that makes its home among the sagebrush sea stretching from Montana to New Mexico and from California to Colorado, by mailing by paper or electronically their objections during the official comment period. Altogether, roughly 267,000 individuals submitted comments to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management at the behest of about 20 environmental groups, they say. But the BLM tallied far fewer comments received for its “scoping” report: About 170,000 individuals submitted comments, according to a memorandum by David Bernhardt, the No. 2 top official at the department, sent to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke." (Washington Post)
- In the wake of fraudulent comments, Regulations.gov revises API policy. Alex Howard explains how, on "March 1, we received a disturbing tip from a reader: Regulations.gov, which is operated by the Environmental Protection Agency, quietly suspended all application programming interface (API) keys without any explanation nor timeline for their restoration." The API is now back online, "but the agency has not only unilaterally restricted how and when public information can be accessed through this public interface but decided that it now has discretion regarding who will receive a key based upon use." Alex tells the whole story, and reflects on the danger of fake and fraudulent comments for online rulemakings, on the Sunlight Foundation blog.
around the world
- Following murders and physical attacks, journalism in Europe is looking less free. "Until recently, press freedom groups dismissed the risk of physical attacks on journalists in Europe. They can no longer afford to do so. The shooting last month of the 27-year-old Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, coming just months after the murder by car bomb of Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, has dispelled the perception that Europe is a continent at peace." (POLITICO)
- Several U.S. federal civic tech leaders head to Canada to lend a hand. "Our northern neighbor seems to have identified an American resource it’s interested in importing — experienced civic tech talent. On Friday, the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) announced that it has added Aaron Snow as its first chief executive officer…In 2013 Snow cofounded 18F, the tech fix-it team within the General Services Administration, ultimately rising to serve as the group’s executive director…Snow isn’t the only former 18F leader the Canadians have scooped up. Lena Trudeau, who was instrumental in helping to set up 18F at GSA, is a senior adviser at the Canadian Digital Service (it’s worth noting that Trudeau is Canadian, though). And Hillary Hartley, another founding member of 18F, is now the chief digital officer for the government of Ontario." (FedScoop)
- School scandal threatens Japanese finance minister, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso is coming under pressure to resign as a scandal over alleged favors to a school with connections to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe deepened." As Andy Sharp and Emi Nobuhiro report, the pressure on Aso is increasing after Japan's "tax chief stepped down Friday amid questions over his involvement in the deal, a resignation that came on the same day as an official at a regional finance ministry bureau in charge of the sale was found dead, in a suspected suicide." (Bloomberg)
- How can election observers fight disinformation? Julia Brothers asks that question, explaining "Elections, the sine qua non of democracy and fundamental cornerstone of political accountability to the public, are increasingly vulnerable to disinformation: the deliberate generation and dissemination of false or misleading information to manipulate public opinion." (Power 3.0)
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