Today in OpenGov: Pack a suitcase full of cash

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In today's edition, Congress prepares a spending bill with no time to read it, new details emerge on the Cabinet's spending habits, a former French president faces charges, data vs. gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, and more. 

washington watch


 
  • The House will try to pass a $1.3 trillion spending bill today. It's going to be hard to read by then. This morning, POLITICO reported that the House is likely to vote on the omnibus spending bill TODAY, less than 24 hours after the 2,232-page legislation was made public online.  Our view? In 2010 the GOP made a Pledge to America to "ensure that bills are debated & discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives." Rushing to pass a bill that has been public for less than 24 hours is not the commitment to transparency in public participation that the GOP promised
  • Federal Office of Women's Health obscures online information related to lesbian and bisexual health. "Lesbian and bisexual women will no longer be able to navigate to a page related to their specific health needs on the Office of Women’s Health website. The Office of Women’s Health (OWH), operating within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is responsible for advancing important women’s health issues and coordinating work pertaining to women’s health across HHS…Since May 2017, OWH has altered or removed several links and webpages from its website, which was visited approximately 700,000 times over the last 30 days." The Web Integrity Project released two new reports yesterday that detail these changes." (Sunlight Foundation) Dan Diamond dug into the reports for POLITICO
  • FEC looks into potential campaign finance violations by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. "The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is investigating possible campaign finance violations by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). In a letter sent to Toni Nunes, the congressman's campaign treasurer and mother, the FEC requested information about contributions from three donors that appear to violate campaign finance rules." (The Hill)
  • In new interview, Mark Zuckerberg appears to support the Honest Ads Act. While speaking to Nicholas Thompson about reports "that the data-science firm Cambridge Analytica obtained the data of 50 million Facebook users," Zuckerberg appeared to throw Facebook's weight behind the Honest Ads Act, saying "…take the Honest Ads Act. Most of the stuff in there, from what I’ve seen, is good. We support it." (Wired) Our view? What Facebook has proposed to disclose to date is not "full ad transparency." We hope Zuckerberg's public policy team now tells Congress as much, and that he will do so as well.
  • New research shows that corporations are increasingly turning to their employees for lobbying support. Alexander Hertel-Fernandez explains, "U.S. businesses are cultivating a new political resource: their own workers. When Republicans wrote their tax bill late last year, many companies pushed their employees to support specific policy provisions and to let their lawmakers in Washington know…U.S. businesses are cultivating a new political resource: their own workers. When Republicans wrote their tax bill late last year, many companies pushed their employees to support specific policy provisions and to let their lawmakers in Washington know." His research asks, "why do businesses try to turn their employees into lobbyists? And does it work?" (Washington Post)

trumpland

President Trump meets with several politically connected Indian real estate developers shortly after the 2016 election. Via Devendra Jain/Twitter.
  • Trump family business dealings in India cause for significant corruption concern. Anjali Kamat explains, "investigations into Donald Trump’s foreign entanglements may have largely begun with Russia, but the president and his family have a special relationship with India, too. Since Donald Trump and his children first began talks with developers in India, around 2007, the Trump Organization has entered into more deals there than in any other foreign country. Five of them are still active—four luxury residential projects and one commercial tower—and are valued at an estimated $1.5 billion." (The New Republic)
  • EPA documents turned over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee show Administrator Scott Pruitt's travel cost more than initially disclosed. "The bipartisan effort by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to examine travel costs at the Environmental Protection Agency bore fruit on Tuesday as the agency turned over a new batch of records relating to controversial travel by Administrator Scott Pruitt…at least two news outlets obtained portions and reported that expenses were higher than previously disclosed." (Government Executive)
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly took his security detail on vacation. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his wife took a security detail on their vacation to Greece and Turkey last year, official documents show, in what one watchdog group said could be a 'questionable' use of taxpayer resources…Zinke was not conducting government business during his two-week vacation, which included stops in Istanbul and the Greek Isles." (POLITICO)
  • Political groups have spent nearly $1.5 million at Trump properties since January 2017. "Analysis of Federal Election Commission filings suggests that political action committees linked to candidates, organizations or the Republican Party spent nearly $1.5 million at Trump properties since Jan. 1, 2017, with spending recorded on 131 of the 424 days between then and Feb. 28, 2018." (Washington Post)

around the world

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a photo from 2011. Image Credit: World Economic Forum.
  • Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy charged in campaign finance case. "Nicolas Sarkozy was on Wednesday evening charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and receiving Libyan public funds, according to local media…In 2016, French-Lebanese businessman and arms broker Ziad Takieddine said in several interviews that he had once personally brought €5 million in cash to Sarkozy, who was then campaigning for president as interior minister." (POLITICO)
  • Indian startup aims to make public data more accessible, useful. "How India Lives wants to be the go-to search portal for publicly available data in India. It also operates as a data consultancy and agency for data-driven news stories that attempt to answer questions in the public interest by transforming difficult-to-obtain and analyze data into something more accessible." (Nieman Lab)
  • Peruvian President, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, resigns amid graft allegations. Ethan Bronner and Ben Bartenstein explain that "when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced two years ago that he was running for president of Peru, he seemed an improbable candidate…He focused on clean government and foreign investment and had little street charisma…Kuczynski, faced with near certain impeachment amid a ballooning set of corruption scandals, offered his resignation on Wednesday." (Bloomberg)

states and cities

The new Congressional map approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 
  • How charts, maps, and statistics helped fight gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. Issie Lapowsky shares the story of three researchers who testified against Pennsylvania's gerrymandered Congressional map. They "took the stand with a range of analyses, some based in complex quantitative theory, others, like Kennedy’s, based in pure cartography. But they all reached the same conclusion: Pennsylvania’s map had been so aggressively gerrymandered for partisan purposes that it silenced the voices of Democratic voters in the state."" (Wired. H/T Flowing Data)
  • Denver police increasingly embrace social media, worrying open government activists. "The video posted Jan. 8 on the department’s social media accounts is punctuated by gunshots and shouts of panic and pain, and undoubtedly illustrates the danger Deputy Zack Parrish and other officers met during that call. Open government advocates also consider it a dramatic example of law enforcement agencies’ expanding efforts to release their own accounts of events to the public and media. There’s nothing wrong with police communicating through social media, open government advocates said. But they worry it allows law enforcement to bypass questions from traditional media and warn that taking advantage of the tools requires agencies to be completely transparent, whatever the situation." (Coloradoan) Our view? We've long urged governments at every level to use social media, from informing the public to listening for cries for help. However, no civil servant or politician should replace press conferences, town halls, or responses to public records requests with tweets.
  • Idaho approves open meetings law expansion. "Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has signed into law a bill that would expand Idaho's open meeting laws…Beginning July 1, boards and commissions created by executive order will now be subjected to the Idaho Open Meeting Law. Currently, these panels are not required to let the public know when they're meeting, post an agenda or keep minutes summarizing what they discussed. Nor are the meetings required to be open to the public, even though most – if not all – are." (KIFI/KIDK)
  • Florida drug case could set precedent on use of facial recognition technology in policing. "A humble drug bust in Jacksonville, Fla., could result in a landmark ruling that challenges the rising popularity of the face recognition technology used to help put a man in jail for eight years. The appeal now underway in Florida’s First District Court of Appeals could also yield further evidence of what many have asserted: that facial recognition tech is itself inherently biased against people of color." (Government Technology)

 

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