Today in OpenGov: Ross orders question on citizenship added to Census, risking an undercount in 2020


In today's edition, the Census adds a controversial question, Sunshine Week heads to Texas, Public Citizen questions President Trump's swamp draining effort, open data can improve election processes, the Supreme Court hears a first amendment argument against gerrymandering, and more. 

a questionable decision

The Constitution of the United States of America.

Yesterday, the Commerce Department announced that Secretary Wilbur Ross has decided "that a question on citizenship status will be reinstated to the 2020 decennial census questionnaire to help enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA)." The decision was made in response to a Justice Department request. You can read the full Commerce Department press release here. Secretary Ross released a memo explaining his decision. 

We oppose this decision for several reasons. Census experts have warned that adding a citizenship question for the 1st time since 1950 could lead to an undercount, privacy harms and higher costs. Most concerning, the addition of a citizenship question could have a chilling effect upon the participation rates among immigrant communities, leading to flawed data.

In January, the Sunlight Foundation joined 200 civil and human rights groups in signing a letter urging Secretary Ross not to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Now that he has chosen to ignore that advice, we believe that Congress should overturn his decision and ensure an accurate 2020 Census. 

  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra quickly announced that he would sue the Trump administration over citizenship question. "California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said late Monday he is filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its decision to include a question on citizenship in the 2020 Census." (The Hill)

states and cities

The Texas State Capitol building. Image Credit: Kumar Appaiah.
  • Sunshine Week heads south to Texas. A "wide array of  diverse, non-partisan organizations dedicated to ensuring greater accountability and transparency in government" have come together under the banner of the Texas Sunshine Coalition and they have been celebrating Sunshine Week all month. If you're in Austin on Thursday, March 29th you can join them at an event, Open Government, Engaged Citizens: A Conversation on Texas’ Public Information Act, discussing "what changes, if any, can be made to strengthen the Public Information Act and how Texas can let more sunshine in." Learn more about the event and register to attend here.
  • Kansas creeps towards transparency following expose on the state's culture of secrecy. "It would be hard to find an American government more secretive than the one in Kansas…The culture of secrecy in the state, which extends to local governments as well, was exposed in a series of articles last fall in the Kansas City Star. The issue has been drawing attention in the state Capitol ever since. The House has cracked down on anonymous bills, while the Senate is working on increased disclosure requirements for lobbyists." (Governing)
  • Despite executive order, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raises big bucks from political appointees. A historical practice of fundraising from political appointees "has vexed government reformers in Albany for generations. Things were supposed to change in 2007, when Eliot L. Spitzer, then the newly elected governor, issued an executive order barring most appointees from donating to or soliciting donations for the governor who made the appointment. Mr. Cuomo renewed the order on his first day in office. But a New York Times investigation found that the Cuomo administration has quietly reinterpreted the directive, enabling him to collect about $890,000 from two dozen of his appointees. Some gave within days of being appointed." (New York Times)


  • Public Citizen files 30 ethics complaints alleging violations of "drain the swamp" executive order. "A prominent government watchdog group has filed 30 ethics complaints with various federal agencies — including the White House — alleging that employees are working in violation of President Donald Trump's executive order intended to "drain the swamp" and keep government free of former lobbyists." (NBC News)
  • The White House Counsel is exploring whether or not loans to Jared Kushner's family companies broke laws. In response to an inquiry from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill), the Acting Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) acknowledged that the White House Counsel is investigating whether loans to Jared Kushner's family business broke laws or regulations. You can read the OGE's letter to Rep. Krishnamoorthi here. This is a good place for us to remind you that Jared Kushner didn't really divest from his family businesses.
  • Top Trump fundraiser promised presidential access to prospective clients. "An investor and defense contractor, [Elliott] Broidy became a top fund-raiser for Mr. Trump’s campaign when most elite Republican donors were keeping their distance, and Mr. Trump in turn overlooked the lingering whiff of scandal from Mr. Broidy’s 2009 guilty plea in a pension fund bribery case. After Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Broidy quickly capitalized, marketing his Trump connections to politicians and governments around the world, including some with unsavory records, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times. Mr. Broidy suggested to clients and prospective customers of his Virginia-based defense contracting company, Circinus, that he could broker meetings with Mr. Trump, his administration and congressional allies." (New York Times)

around the world

A screenshot of the Open Election Data Initiative website.
  • Making election data more open and useful. "The Open Election Data Initiative equips civil society groups, election administrators, and technologists with the concepts and tools they need to effectively advocate for and implement election data that is truly ‘open’. This includes highlighting the nine key principles for open election data that can ensure electoral information is freely and easily used, reused, and redistributed by members of the general public. While these principles generally reflect commonly accepted open data standards, when related to elections, some principles have more practical and political value than others. For instance, given the limited windows of relevance for and importance of precision in electoral procedures and outcomes, timeliness and granularity are particularly critical for assessing electoral integrity and promoting voter information." (Open Government Partnership) Learn more about the Open Election Data Initiative, which is a project of the National Democratic Institute and USAID. 
  • Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi indicted on judicial corruption charges. "Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was indicted by a Milan court on Monday for accusations of corruption in judicial acts and false testimonies. The Forza Italia party leader is accused of paying women to lie on the stand at a previous trial over an underage alleged prostitute nicknamed Ruby, according to Italian news agency ANSA. Berlusconi was originally convicted for paying for sex with Ruby, but was later acquitted because he said he did not know her age." (POLITICO)
  • With elections approaching, Malaysia plans harsh crackdown on "fake news." "Malaysia is seeking to fight fake news with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison as it prepares for an election that must be held by August. Those creating and distributing false information will be subject to imprisonment or up to 500,000 ringgit ($128,000) fine, or both, according to the bill submitted to parliament on Monday. The law will apply to anyone inside or outside Malaysia, regardless of nationality or citizenship, as long as the fake news concerns the country or its citizens." (Bloomberg)

washington watch

Screenshot from the homepage for Cambridge Analytica's political consulting business.
  • Justice Department and Federal Election Commission asked to investigate potential election law violations by Cambridge Analytica. "Amid mounting accusations that data firm Cambridge Analytica misused the Facebook data of up to 50 million user profiles, the U.K.-based firm and its top executives are now also under fire for alleged violations of U.S. election laws. Government watchdog group Common Cause Monday filed a pair of legal complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Department of Justice accusing Cambridge Analytica LTD…of violating federal election laws that prohibit foreigners from participating directly or indirectly in the decision-making process of U.S. political campaigns." (ABC News)
  • Supreme Court set to hear gerrymandering case that hinges on the First Amendment. "On Wednesday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in Benisek v. Lamone, a case about whether Maryland violated the First Amendment rights of Republican voters by redrawing the state’s congressional districts with the goal of making it unwinnable for an incumbent Republican member of Congress. The case may answer not only that question but also a broader one about the courts’ proper role in the political process: Will the late Antonin Scalia’s view that courts should mostly refuse to police incumbency protection and political self-interest prevail?" (POLITICO)
  • Organizers of "March For Our Lives" gun control demonstration have millions leftover for lobbying. "Organizers of the 'March For Our Lives' rally in Washington put the early cost estimate for the event at $5 million, and said they have 'several million dollars' left to continue to push for stricter gun laws and fight gun violence. Deena Katz, a Hollywood producer who became involved in the early stages of planning for the march, said fundraising efforts have been successful enough to ensure continued lobbying and other activism." (NPR)
  • The State Department wants to teach diplomats data literacy. "America’s diplomats are, and always will be, particularly adept at using the written and spoken word to advance the country’s policy agenda. But in an increasingly data-driven world, there’s an interest in making sure they’re adept with numbers, too. Enter the Data Analysis and Visualization course being taught at the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Applied Information Technology. The course is new — it kicked off for the first time on Dec. 18, 2017, and has been run every two weeks since." (FedScoop)


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