Today in OpenGov: Costly upgrades

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In today's edition, MuckRock makes it easy to explore state FOI laws, President Trump feels entitled to his own facts, Los Angeles tries to smooth out its body camera transparency policy, 225 years worth of Supreme Court cases go online, and more. 

rays of sunshine

Cartoon by SW Para.

As Sunshine Week continues, we'll be doing our best to highlight some of the great events, reports, and stories on the state of transparency and open government in the United States throughout the week. Want to see something highlighted here? Drop us a line: todayinopengov@sunlightfoundation.com

Today's rays of sunshine:

  • Making it easier to explore FOI laws across the states. Michael Morisy and the folks at MuckRock explain that during "Sunshine Week, we’re excited to launch a new collaboration that makes it easy to explore every state’s public records laws, find details on specific exemptions as well as sample appeals, and more. The database builds on and updates work by Miranda Spivack, an independent journalist. She developed the project in collaboration with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, students at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication, and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting." (MuckRock)
  • Professors consider a clash between freedom of information and open government. Suzanne J. Piotrowski, Alex Ingrams, and Daniel Berliner explain. "The new kid on the block is the open government movement. And despite the fact that it shares a fundamental goal with the more established FOI movement – government transparency – the open government movement threatens to harm FOI by cornering the already limited public and private funding and government staffing available for transparency work." (The Conversation) As Sunlight's deputy director Alex Howard observed, however, the notion that "open government" and freedom of information are somehow different is fundamentally flawed, particularly during Sunshine Week. There is ambiguity in whether government data is opened for economic impact, civic participation and collaboration, or government accountability, but they’re not different. Proactive disclosures of structured data online directly to the public are the both the present and future of open government, but freedom of information laws will always be relevant to holding governments accountable for disclosing what they do not wish to publish but the public has a right to know.
  • National Freedom of Information Coalition set to relocate to the Sunshine State. "The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC)…announced that NFOIC will be relocating its headquarters to the University of Florida. UFCJC will now be home to three units at the forefront of freedom of information and First Amendment issues:  NFOIC, the Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project.  NFOIC will be located inside the Brechner Center and the two organizations will collaborate to create research and public-awareness projects advancing the access rights of journalists, and all citizens, to information about issues of public concern." (NFOIC)
  • The Associated Press celebrates Sunshine Week by breaking down how they report complex stories. A post on the Associated Press Twitter provides "a look at how actual journalists — including those at the AP — report, edit and visualize a story while working hard to make it accurate and fair."
  • CIA kept editorial cartoon mocking Reagan administration secrecy classified for 30 years. JPat Brown shared "an editorial cartoon by the Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Herbert Block, nom de plume Herblock, poking fun of the Reagan administration’s obsession with secrecy. The CIA kept it classified for nearly 30 years." He dug up the cartoon while browsing the Central Intelligence Agency’s declassified archive. (MuckRock)

trumpland

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
  • Emails show that HUD Secretary Ben Carson and his wife were heavily involved in expensive office redecoration. "New details surrounding two Trump administration Cabinet officials’ expenditures to spruce up their offices came to light this week, demonstrating more direct involvement and higher spending totals than previously suspected. Emails obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight show Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and his wife Candy, both personally played a role in choosing discount dining room sets for his office. The purchase came under scrutiny for its $31,000 price tag, and Carson has subsequently canceled the order." (Government Executive)
  • Watchdog files suit seeking office upgrade details from 16 additional agencies. "A liberal watchdog group is suing 16 federal agencies for records to determine how much they have spent upgrading the offices of senior officials. In the 12-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, American Oversight alleges that the agencies failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests it sent in November." (The Hill)
  • In speech to donors, President Trump boasts about making up facts while talking trade with Canadian prime minister. "President Trump boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up information in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S. ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether that was the case." (Washington Post)
  • During first 8 months of Trump administration, DoD employees spent nearly $140,000 at Trump hotels. "Defense Department employees charged just over $138,000 at Trump branded properties in the first eight months of Donald Trump's presidency, according to a CNN review of hundreds of records. Charges on the department-issued Visa cards, which span from Honolulu to Washington, DC, are the most recent evidence that taxpayer money flows to Trump's company, once again emboldening critics who say these payments violate ethical norms and possibly the US Constitution." (CNN)

states and cities

A screenshot from the Ohio County Monitor, a publication exploring new models for local accountability journalism.
  • Strengthening local accountability journalism with a rural "innovation lab." Sam Ford and Andrea Wenzel explain how the Tow Center has teamed up with the Ohio County Monitor on "a 'rural journalism innovation lab'..,[exploring] a range of approaches—around promotion, news products, and community engagement—aimed at driving residents into a deeper relationship with The Ohio County Monitor and supporting the outlet’s move to a $5-monthly subscription model, supported by very limited advertising." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • New ethics complaint filed against Missouri Governor over potential campaign finance violations. "A Democratic consultant said Wednesday that he is filing a new ethics complaint alleging Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens falsely reported how his campaign obtained a donor list from a charity he founded and failed to disclose that it also got the charity’s email list. The complaint from former state Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple asks the Missouri Ethics Commission to refer the case against Greitens to a prosecutor and demand that his campaign pay a fine." (Associated Press)
  • Los Angeles, California considering a police body camera policy. "This week, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) may join the ranks of major cities with a body-worn camera (BWC) policy when the Board of Police Commissioners votes on whether to implement a proposed plan on March 20. With just over 10,000 officers, the LAPD is the second largest municipal police department in the United States, after New York City. The department serves an area of 498 square miles and a population of 4,030,904 people." (Government Technology)
  • Alabama Sheriff pocketed $750,000 worth of government funds earmarked to feed inmates. Connor Sheets reports that "ethics disclosure forms [Etowah County Sheriff Todd] Entrekin filed with the state reveal that over the past three years he has received more than $750,000 worth of additional 'compensation' from a source he identified as 'Food Provisions.'" It turns out that the money "was allocated by federal, state and municipal governments to feed inmates in the Etowah County jail, but was not used for that purpose and was instead personally pocketed by Entrekin." It is not currently illegal in Etowah County to keep excess money allocated to feed inmates. (AL.Com)

washington watch


 
  • The Federal Election Commission moves forward with online political ad disclaimer proposals. The FEC has published 2 proposals for online ad disclaimers. Public comments on the proposals must be received 60 days after the notice is published in the Federal Register. The FEC has scheduled a public hearing on on the topic for June 27, 2018.
  • As the midterm elections draw closer, Hill staffers have to walk fine line while helping out on campaigns. "With campaign season here, Hill staffers are likely to find their duties expanding with election-related tasks. Press secretaries and senior staff doing paid or volunteer campaign work routinely flock to nearby coffee shops with their personal laptops to send campaign press releases or go on walks to take reporters’ calls about their boss’s re-election. Campaign work has to be done on staffers’ own time, off government property…But even the most black-and-white lines are still crossed. And in reality, some lines — like what constitutes government time — are murky, especially when enforcement is lacking." (Roll Call)
  • The Library of Congress is now publishing Supreme Court cases dating back to 1791. "More than 225 years of Supreme Court decisions acquired by the Library of Congress are now publicly available online – free to access in a page image format for the first time. The Library has made available more than 35,000 cases that were published in the printed bound editions of United States Reports (U.S. Reports)." (Library of Congress

 

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