In today's edition, airline fee transparency may take a hit, the NRA ups its online ad spending, several state legislatures make dangerous public records access moves, and more.
- Under Trump administration, prescription drug price database updates fall by the wayside. "The Department of Health and Human Services has not updated the databases that show the public how much money the government is paying for drugs, hospitals and physicians. The database has been instrumental for researchers, journalists and non-profit groups who keep tabs on trends in drug prices and abuses by physicians, and was considered to be a step toward transparency and accountability for an industry that historically keeps its prices in the dark." (CNN)
- Airlines push the Department of Transportation to allow a rollback on fee transparency. "In December the airlines sent a lengthy series of requests to the U.S. Department of Transportation that’s being evaluated. Among the priorities: repealing rules that mandate 'full-fare advertising' and eliminating the requirement to display on-time flight and cancellation data during the fare-purchase process. In other words, they’re hoping to conceal the data that power third-party distribution channels—and all their shiny new features." (Bloomberg)
- Did Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ever divest from a Chinese shipping firm after promising to do so? Zach Carter explains that, "when private equity magnate Wilbur Ross agreed to become President Donald Trump’s commerce secretary in January 2017, he promised to divest himself of investments all over the world ― with a few exceptions. In particular, Ross said he’d maintain a 'passive' stake in Diamond S Shipping, an international shipping operation that sails under the Chinese flag." However, following "a report by the Center for Public Integrity [highlighting] controversial Diamond S operations in Iran and Russia" a Commerce department spokesperson declared that Ross had moved to fully divest from Diamond S. Four months after that claim was made, public filings contain no indication that Ross has actually divested. (Huffington Post)
- Less than 3 months into 2018, the RNC has already spent more than $400,000 at Trump properties. "The Republican National Committee's (RNC) spending at Trump-branded properties in 2018 surpassed $400,000 through the end of February, according to Federal Election Commission filings. As of Feb. 28, the RNC spent more than $424,000 at properties owned by President Trump's private businesses." (The Hill)
- The latest roundup of Trump conflicts highlights an emoluments lawsuit, inaugural spending, and Kushner deals. "This week, questions remain about how $107 million raised by President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee was spent, the President has been personally named in an emolument lawsuit, and a sale by the Kushner Companies is raising continued conflict of interest concerns." (Sunlight Foundation)
- New revelations boost argument that payments from President Trump's personal lawyer to "Stormy Daniels" may have violated campaign finance laws. "The new revelations about President Trump and his lawyer’s payment to a porn star who says she had an affair with Trump have prompted campaign-finance watchdogs and some Democrats on Capitol Hill to renew their calls for a federal investigation. On Monday, Common Cause filed updated complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice, arguing that a lawsuit filed last week by adult film actress Stormy Daniels demonstrates that a $130,000 payment to her broke election laws." (USA Today)
- Judge rejects attempt to maintain super PAC donor secrecy. "A judge has rejected a mystery conservative donor’s legal bid to maintain the secrecy surrounding $1.7 million donated to a Super PAC that was active on behalf of Republican candidates in the 2012 election…A trust and trustee involved in funneling $1.7 million to the PAC argued in the suit that disclosure of their identities would invade their privacy. It appears that they are legally distinct from the original source of the funds, but it’s possible that naming the trust and trustee could effectively identify the donor." (POLITICO)
- In the wake of the Parkland, FL school shooting, the NRA sharply boosted its online ad spending. "Immediately after the horror of the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the National Rifle Association halted all of its digital advertising, including ads on YouTube, banner ads on websites, and Facebook ads. Within four days, though, the NRA had returned in force, increasing its advertising aggressively on Facebook, and spending so widely and indiscriminately that its ads on YouTube showed up on videos for school-age kids." (Chicago Tribune)
- Congress urges USDA to put animal facility inspection reports back online. "Language in a document connected to the omnibus spending bill urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase public access to inspection reports of animal breeders and other facilities after the agency, citing privacy concerns, rolled back access to the information. The USDA removed inspection reports from a public database last February, leading to criticism from lawmakers and animal advocacy groups." (ABC News)
states and cities
- Legislative actions in Kentucky, Iowa, and Washington raise serious concerns over need for state FOI and open government reforms. Daniel Bevarly argues that "existing laws directing state government transparency and accountability to residents are under threat. Three recent actions by state legislatures in Kentucky, Washington and Iowa to circumvent their state’s public records and public meeting laws demonstrate the sweeping efforts by legislative bodies to undermine democracy in their jurisdictions." (NFOIC) We've previously covered the controversial actions by the Washington State legislature. You can read more about what's happening in Kentucky via the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Cook County, Illinois joins wave of lawsuits against Facebook over data privacy reports. "Cook County, Illinois, has joined the parade of lawsuits filed against Facebook in the wake of the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal—the county is believed to be the first public entity to sue the social media giant and its former London-based business partner. The case, which was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County on Friday, March 23, lays out similar allegations to the six other cases currently pending in federal court. Cook County argues that Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and the SCL Group, its corporate parent, violated users' privacy en masse when they violated Illinois laws against fraud." (Ars Technica)
- Donor testifies that he steered thousands of dollars in funds to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's campaigns. "A Long Island restaurateur testified under oath on Thursday that he steered tens of thousands of dollars to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political campaigns in return for favorable treatment by the city. It was the first time that the restaurateur, Harendra Singh, has publicly detailed his efforts to use campaign contributions — as much as $80,000 raised from others, and much more personally by using “straw donors” to skirt contribution limits — to gain better terms during lease negotiations for one of his restaurants." (New York Times)
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