In today's edition, the CIA plays games, the telecom lobby plans to fight net neutrality in the states, President Trump's free-spending cabinet takes its cues from the top, Vancouver, Canada keeps up its money laundering crackdown, and more.
- The NRA cops to taking foreign money, but claims it's not spent on elections. "The National Rifle Association acknowledged that it accepts foreign donations but says it does not use them for election work — even as federal investigators look into the role the NRA might have played in Russia's attack on the 2016 election…The NRA is not required to be transparent about how money moves among its various political entities, and this leaves questions unanswered about how these foreign funds were ultimately spent." (NPR)
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify in front of Congress in wake of data privacy scandal… "Facebook sources tell CNNMoney the 33-year-old CEO has come to terms with the fact that he will have to testify before Congress within a matter of weeks, and Facebook is currently planning the strategy for his testimony. The pressure from lawmakers, the media and the public has become too intense to justify anything less." (CNN)
- ...meanwhile, Facebook is on a K Street hiring spree. Naomi Nix, Billy House, and Bill Allison report on Facebook's "hiring spree in Washington as the social network bulks up its ranks of lobbyists in the midst of a privacy scandal that cuts to the heart of its business model. As a chorus of calls mounts for answers about its data practices, Facebook is looking to hire at least 11 people for policy-related positions in Washington, according to its website. The company started hiring new lobbyists last fall after revelations Russians exploited its platform to help elect President Donald Trump." (Bloomberg)
- How Sheldon Adelson helped facilitate a deal between the EPA and an Israeli tech company. "The Environmental Protection Agency has signed a deal to test technology from an Israeli company whose executives were twice granted access to EPA chief Scott Pruitt at the request of Republican Party donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson." (Wall Street Journal)
- The CIA created a board game about the hunt for drug kingpin "El Chapo." Now, thanks to FOIA, it's public. JPat Brown explains how "back in December, we wrote about how MuckRock’s Mitchell Kotler used FOIA to get the Central Intelligence Agency to release a number of internal board games used for training exercises. Today we’re looking at another game in the series, which the Agency reproduced in full – 'Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo.' As you could probably guess from the title, the game is based on the interagency attempt to capture the titular drug lord in Mexico. Gameplay consists of two teams taking turns; “the Cartel” attempts to evade capture of El Chapo by moving his piece around around the board in secret, while the Hunters attempt to pin him down by collecting intelligence." (MuckRock)
states and cities
- This telecom lobbying group has big plans to fight net neutrality efforts in the states. "A lobby group that represents AT&T, Verizon, and other telcos plans to sue states and cities that try to enforce net neutrality rules. USTelecom, the lobby group, made its intentions clear yesterday in a blog post titled, 'All Americans Deserve Equal Rights Online.'" (Ars Technica)
- Using open data and AI to track blocked bike and bus lanes. "Alex Bell, a cyclist, programmer, and lifelong New Yorker, is fed up with vehicles drifting into lanes that are not meant for them…" In an effort to shed light on the issue, Bell is leveraging "open data, and a computer algorithm he built himself that can detect exactly when and by whom lanes are blocked." (FastCompany)
- This AP reporter has been covering corruption in Illinois for 20 years. "In his 20 years as an Illinois statehouse reporter, the Associated Press’ John O’Connor has exposed corruption at nearly every level of Illinois government. His reporting on lies and government waste across five administrations have been one of few constants in a statehouse press corps that, like most others, is a shell of what it was a decade ago." (Columbia Journalism Review)
- The Missouri legislature is considering a bill that would boost open records enforcement. "The Sunshine Law, Missouri’s open records law, could be getting a big boost through legislation discussed Monday in a state House hearing. Missouri would join at least 15 other states in creating an official division that would not only enforce open records laws more strongly, but also provide guidance to the public and smaller government entities in navigating the Sunshine Law. Punishments for the law’s violations would be increased, too." (Missourian)
- President Trump's cabinet is haunted by ongoing reports of profligate spending. Ben Carson and Dave Shulkin are reportedly not long for their jobs heading up the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs, respectively, over "dubious use of taxpayer dollars in their duties as secretaries. They can console themselves knowing that they’re in good company. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been caught in extravagant expenditures, too. Less heartening is the sixth example, Tom Price, who was unceremoniously forced out as secretary of health and human services in September 2017." David A. Graham explores the trend and postulates that the problem might stem from the man in the Oval Office. (The Atlantic)
- It may take more than a year for the FEC to rule on complaint that a payment to Stormy Daniels was an illegal contribution to the Trump campaign. "Current and former Federal Election Commission officials tell NBC News it could take a year or longer for the FEC to address the case of whether Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels represents an unreported in-kind, contribution to the Trump campaign." (NBC News)
- EPA "transparency" proposal could instead limit the research it is allowed to use in its own rulemaking processes. "The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a major change to the way it assesses scientific work, a move that would severely restrict the research available to it when writing environmental regulations. Under the proposed policy, the agency would no longer consider scientific research unless the underlying raw data can be made public for other scientists and industry groups to examine." The problem? Data from many of these studies is restricted due to personal privacy concerns. (New York Times) Our view? Although an EPA spokesperson told the New York Times that " Mr. Pruitt believes that Americans deserve transparency,” his record in office has shown that’s not true. This proposed raw data policy is about undermining the science behind regulations.
- In a report to Congress, the U.S. Digital Service highlighted several accomplishments and ongoing projects. "While many of the modernization efforts from the Trump administration have come from new White House-based offices and the private sector, and some federal tech groups have seen turnover and declining numbers, the U. S. Digital Service is still kicking. In its latest report to Congress the USDS highlighted a series of objectives and launches from 2017 across a range of government agencies. Many of the stated goals of USDS mesh with White House modernization efforts — specifically improving public-facing services, growing the use of common platforms, getting tech talent into government and rethinking procurement." (Federal Computer Week) Read the statement from acting USDS administrator Matt Cutts here.
- At least 12 states are set to sue the Trump administration over Census citizenship question. "At least 12 states signaled Tuesday that they would sue to block the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, arguing that the change would cause fewer Americans to be counted and violate the Constitution." (New York Times)
around the world
- Vancouver, Canada shifts focus of money laundering crackdown to luxury car dealerships. "A money laundering crackdown sparked by lavish bets at Vancouver gambling tables has a new target in sight: The Canadian city’s gleaming luxury dealerships where buyers can pay cash for $300,000 supercars." (Bloomberg)
- Dueling leaks and corruption allegations mark bitter Hungarian campaign. "For Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the stakes of next month’s general election just got a lot higher. A spate of corruption allegations and new questions over whether his government had a role in leaking recordings of civil society leaders mean a surprise loss could translate into years spent behind bars." (POLITICO)
- Eight Kenyan columnists resign, citing freedom of expression and censorship concerns. "Eight columnists with East Africa’s biggest newspaper organization resigned, accusing Nation Media Group Plc of failing to allow writers freedom of expression including criticism of the Kenyan government." (Bloomberg)
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