In today's edition, President Trump demands non-disclosure agreements from top public servants, more states gear up to implement their own net neutrality rules, online censorship expands in China, we try to spread sunshine every day, and more.
- President Trump pushed senior White House staff to sign non-disclosure agreements. Ruth Marcus explains that, "in the early months of the administration, at the behest of now-President Trump, who was furious over leaks from within the White House, senior White House staff members were asked to, and did, sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information and exposing them to damages for any violation. Some balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event." (The Washington Post) Our view? Nondisclosure agreements have no place in statehouses, legislatures or city halls, much less the White House. Public servants and public business should be open and accountable to the public, not obscured by unconstitutional restrictions on free speech.
- Cambridge Analytica, Trump-tied data analytics firm, harvested personal data of 50 million Facebook users without permission. "The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box. A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements." (The Observer of London and The New York Times)
- Andrew McCabe, former FBI Deputy Director, fired two days before scheduled retirement. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has fired Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, the Justice Department announced late Friday night…McCabe, a career agent who briefly served as the acting director of the FBI after President Trump fired James Comey from the job last year, was scheduled to retire on Sunday after 21 years of working at the agency." (BuzzFeed) Lawmakers from both parties reacted to the move with some skepticism. (Time)
- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with coal executive who raised $1 million for President Trump's campaign, according to newly released documents. "EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with an Indiana coal executive last year who was seeking to soften a pollution rule — and who once boasted about raising more than a million dollars for President Donald Trump’s campaign, according to documents provided to POLITICO." The documents were obtained through a FOIA request by the Sierra Club. (POLITICO)
- We joined a coalition calling on the Senate to halt confirmation of Trump's CIA nominee until documents tied to her involvement in torture program are released. Spencer Ackerman shared the details, "as the CIA begins to defend its possible next director, civil liberties groups are urging the Senate to halt Gina Haspel’s nomination 'until all the records on her past involvement in the CIA torture program are declassified and released to the public,' according to a Friday letter sent to Capitol Hill and provided to The Daily Beast." (The Daily Beast) You can read the entire letter here.
- This week in conflicts; Ivanka Trump, ethics waivers, and emoluments. Lynn Walsh shared the latest in her series on Trump administration conflicts. "This week, we learned Ivanka Trump that is indeed still earning money from the family business while she serves in the White House, lobbyists are continuing to receive ethics waivers while they work in the federal agencies they once lobbied, and an emoluments lawsuit against President Donald J. Trump will move forward." (Sunlight Foundation)
states and cities
- Code for Asheville is pushing for police accountability through data transparency. A petition on Change.org, states "The community must be empowered to hold the City of Asheville and the Asheville Police Department accountable and to work as partners with the City in identifying and implementing solutions. This means that the community must have access to reliable and up-to-date information about APD actions and policies. We support the request by Code for Asheville that the Asheville City Council require the regular release of critical data and policies related to public safety and the police department and that Asheville join with other cities that are already using data to bring about positive systemic change." (Change.org) We were happy to join Code for America in endorsing this petition, which aligns with best practices in local government.
- Dozens of states are considering their own net neutrality rules. "When California proposed a bill this week to preserve net neutrality rules in the state, it was the most comprehensive effort in the nation. The bill would even move beyond the protections that the FCC recently moved to roll back. But the bill is only one way states are moving to keep the rules after last year’s FCC decision. The activist group Fight for the Future has listed efforts in 35 states and the District of Columbia, including legislation under consideration and executive orders." (The Verge)
- Illinois lawmakers recently strengthened the states FOI law, but didn't include themselves. "Illinois' FOIA laws had been criticized as having too many exemptions and no real recourse for a government denial of a request. They became stronger in 2010. They now include civil penalties of up to $5,000, but they're rarely applied and many other loopholes remain. One glaring exception from these transparency laws is for the lawmakers who wrote them." (Illinois News Network)
around the world
- Former South African President Jacob Zuma to face corruption prosecution. "Former South African President Jacob Zuma will be charged with 16 counts of corruption, money laundering and racketeering, the country's national prosecuting authority announced Friday. The charges relate to 783 questionable payments Zuma allegedly received in connection with a controversial multibillion-rand arms deal." (CNN)
- As presidential term limits disappear, online censorship spikes in China. Tony Lin reports that the word disagree "(不同意 in Mandarin) disappeared from Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, in late February. The change came shortly after China’s Communist Party (CCP) announced its proposal to amend the constitution, which would allow President Xi Jinping to hold his position for longer than two terms." After the term limit proposal was approved over the weekend, "a new wave of online censorship hit the country, banning a slew of similar phrases." (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Organization asks Italian candidates to disclose background information in fight against lack of official transparency. "Italian voters don’t have access to background information regarding political candidates. This is because Italy doesn’t currently have a law which guarantees that candidates present themselves transparently, and it’s often difficult to find basic information about candidates… such as their CVs, potential conflicts of interest, criminal records, tax returns, and political donations. This is why we started our campaign and online platform Transparent Candidates, where we asked candidates in last week’s election to voluntarily disclose the above information and, if elected, push the Italian parliament to make these disclosures mandatory in future elections in their first 100 days in office." (Open Government Partnership)
- This Canadian province wants to limit money laundering at its casinos. "British Columbia is projecting a C$30 million ($23 million) drop in gambling revenue as the government cracks down on money laundering at Vancouver-area casinos where high-rollers dropped as much as C$500,000 for a single buy-in." (Bloomberg)
the sun still shines
Sunshine Week wrapped up on Saturday but, as you know, we do our best to keep the sun shining everyday here in the Today in OpenGov newsletter. We want to thank everyone who shared something with us during Sunshine Week and urge you to keep sending your OpenGov tips and links to email@example.com
Today, we've got a few final Sunshine Week stories left to share:
- On the Sunlight Foundation blog, we recapped our Sunshine Week event, which highlighted the state of open government in Washington, DC both as a city and as the home of the federal government.
- Our friends at MuckRock shared some of their favorite projects from Sunshine Week, "including tips on collaboration and some awards you might not want to win." (MuckRock)
- Over at Issue One, Michael Beckel argued that Congress should celebrate Sunshine Week by passing the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 298) — a bipartisan bill that would not only save taxpayers an estimated $900,000 a year but would also improve access to vital information about how politicians are raising and spending their campaign funds. (Issue One)
- How the Center for Public Integrity uses government records to tell vital stories. In this piece, celebrating Sunshine Week, they share "some of the stories that involved digging through records to defend your right to know: Where your state lawmakers make their money, how many students your state is sending through the prison pipeline, the records behind campus sexual assault and more." (Center for Public Integrity)
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