In today's edition, Secretary of State hopeful Mike Pompeo's failure to disclose business ties with China may complicate his upcoming confirmation hearing, we join a group letter urging Congress to support the Honest Ads Act, Ohio's House speaker resigns, Hungary closes its civic spaces, and more.
- Trump administration releases limited set of White House visitor logs in response to lawsuit. The White House released a 19 page PDF covering visitors to the Office of Management and Budget, the Council on Environmental Quality, and Office of National Drug Control Policy for February 2018. They claimed 543 exemptions. The release was in response to a lawsuit filed by Public Citizen, who took the time to convert the PDF release into a spreadsheet. Our view? While we look forward to seeing this data integrated into existing projects, like ProPublica's ongoing effort, and used by watchdogs and the public, this sort of release remains an open government regression. The White House should be proactively releasing visitor logs as open data. As we said last April, secrecy on the White House visitor logs showed that the Trump administration was allergic to transparency. Our conclusion has been confirmed again and again in the year since. Congress should mandate proactive disclosure.
- Mike Pompeo failed to disclose business ties with Chinese-government owned company. "CIA Director Mike Pompeo failed to disclose last year that he owned a Kansas business that imported oilfield equipment from a company owned by the Chinese government. That omission, on the questionnaire Pompeo was required to fill out for Senate confirmation to lead the spy agency, could cause a problem for him in Thursday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be President Donald Trump's secretary of state." (McClatchy DC)
- The National Enquirer, a long time ally to President Trump, is a subject of the FBI investigation involving Trump's personal lawyer. "President Trump has long had ties to the nation’s major media players. But his connections with the country’s largest tabloid publisher, American Media Inc., run deeper than most…Now the tabloid company has been drawn into a sweeping federal investigation of Mr. Cohen’s activities, including efforts to head off potentially damaging stories about Mr. Trump during his run for the White House." (New York Times)
- Senate Judiciary Committee may consider legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller. "The Senate Judiciary Committee is moving forward with legislation to limit President Trump's ability to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wants to add the bill to the panel's business meeting agenda scheduled for Thursday, a spokesman for the senator confirmed to The Hill." (The Hill) Our view? We're glad to see Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) moving forward with legislation limiting President Trump's ability to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. No one is above the rule of law, including the President. Read the legislation in question here.
- The Trump Organization keeps suing local governments, saying that it's property tax bills vastly overvalue property holdings. "Across the country, the Trump Organization is suing local governments, claiming it owes much less in property taxes than government assessors say because its properties are worth much less than they’ve been valued at. In just one example, the company has asserted that its gleaming waterfront skyscraper in Chicago is worth less than than its assessed value, in part because its retail space is failing and worth less than nothing." (ProPublica)
- Following Mark Zuckerberg's second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, lawmakers seem to agree on need for regulation, but timeline remains unclear. "Two days of sharp questioning of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg underscored how the risks posed by social media have become areas of broad political concern, bringing together House and Senate, Democrat and Republican, even rural and urban lawmakers. The uncommonly bipartisan flavor of the hearings manifested itself in numerous threats by members of both parties to more forcefully regulate the technology industry…But many longtime advocates for reining in the industry remain unconvinced that federal action is imminent after more than a decade in which privacy controversies have failed to generate meaningful new laws." (Washington Post)
- Meanwhile, we joined a broad coalition urging Congress to pass the Honest Ads Act. The letter, sent to all members of Congress, explains that "the bill recognizes that voters have a right to know about foreign sponsors and funders of campaign-related Internet ads. Our organizations and experts strongly urge you to support the Honest Ads Act and to publicly press for prompt passage of the bill by Congress." You can read the full letter here and learn more about our support of the Honest Ads Act here.
- NRA reports more Russian tied financial support than initially acknowledged, stops cooperating with Congress. "The National Rifle Association reported this week that it received more money from people with Russian ties than it has previously acknowledged, but announced that it was officially done cooperating with a congressional inquiry exploring whether illicit Kremlin-linked funding passed through the NRA and into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said on Wednesday." (POLITICO)
- Meet the wealthy donors funding the midterm elections. "Ten wealthy donors gave more than 20 percent of the $296 million that flowed this cycle into super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations. While these groups cannot coordinate their advertising with candidates or political parties, they often work closely with official campaigns, and they are poised to be influential forces in this year’s congressional midterm elections." (Washington Post)
- Census officials set to appear before House Oversight Committee next month. "Officials from the U.S. Census Bureau and Commerce Department, which oversees the census, are expected to be grilled on Capitol Hill next month about the addition of a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 census form. They are set to appear before lawmakers at a public hearing scheduled for May 8, according to a statement from Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee." (NPR)
- Nick Fouriezos proposed making super political actions committees foot the bill for sexual harassment cases. That idea has some flaws, as our executive director pointed out. "Any tax on political contributions is bound to draw constitutional scrutiny, since the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC defined spending by such committees as part of a First Amendment right to free speech. What’s more, targeting the donations to cover a specific party would 'create a bigger opportunity for legal challenge,' implying 'the state is favoring specific candidates or trying to tilt the playing field rather than create a fair playing field,' says John Wonderlich…The funds would almost assuredly have to come from fees instead, levied when a super PAC or similar organization files with the state or federal election board, which could then be put aside to fund settlements. Unless that fee had some teeth, it 'might be a symbolic gesture, but not enough,' Wonderlich says, noting that 'if you said every $10 million that goes to a super PAC would be taxed at 10 percent, it might result in effective dollars, but would be legally problematic.'” (OZY)
states and cities
- Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives will step down amid FBI probe. "Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R) will resign his office as the FBI investigates lavish spending on housing and travel during his time in office. Rosenberger, who represents a southern Ohio district, said last week he had hired an attorney after becoming aware the FBI was asking questions about him. He has denied any wrongdoing." (The Hill)
- Journalists win lawsuit over documents related to police planning for "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, VA. "Following a lawsuit brought by two freelance journalists represented by attorneys from the Reporters Committee, the public will have access to more information about how the Charlottesville Police Department and Virginia State Police planned for the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally. The rally left 19 injured and led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, as well as two Virginia state troopers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, who were killed in a helicopter crash while monitoring the day’s events." (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press)
- Connecticut House of Representatives passes bill that would require notification when personnel records are FOIA'd. Josie Albertson-Grove shared all the details; "The Connecticut House just passed a bill that would require agencies to notify employees when their personnel records are sought through FOIA…Supporters of the bill claim FOIA is used by gangs, identity thieves, and people who want to hurt police officers with 'fishing expeditions.' The ACLU of Connecticut noted that agencies already have the right to determine if a request constitutes an invasion of privacy." You can read the legislation here.
- Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has been accused of a forced sexual encounter by a women with whom he had an affair in a new report disclosed by state lawmakers investigating his conduct. Daniel Strauss and Kevin Robillard detail that the report was "released by a special committee of the Missouri House of Representatives, which convened to investigate Greitens after he was indicted in February on a charge of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a nonconsensual nude photo of the woman. The woman’s ex-husband has also alleged that Greitens, a Republican in his first term, threatened to blackmail her with the photo." (POLITICO)
around the world
- Resource Watch website empowers the public to better understand our changing planet. The new site, a project of the World Resources Institute, is "an open-data solution to help people everywhere monitor the planet’s pulse, uncover insights and take action for a more sustainable future. Resource Watch gives you the tools to explore issues you care about, dive deep into credible data and monitor a range of issues—from earthquakes to local air quality—in near-real time." (Resource Watch)
- Hungary just the latest example of a government closing civic space. "Signs of regression in democratic practices have been widespread for several years, but its consolidation has accelerated in a disturbing manner. Trusted champions of open government are being replaced by regimes threatening to reverse years of progress in open data, vigorous citizen participation, and the promise of enhanced government accountability. We see governments once open to partnership with civil society groups now actively monitoring and undermining CSOs. And, as this global trend toward closing civic spaces continues, many organizations are forced to reevaluate how they engage with government in order to retain their ability to defend the interests of the people." (International Budget Partnership)
- European anti-corruption body knocks planned "reforms" in Romania. "The Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body has warned Romania that several planned changes to judicial laws and the criminal code would violate European anti-corruption standards. The Romanian parliament’s plan to create a new special prosecutor function to investigate offenses committed by magistrates could easily be misused, the body said in a report released Wednesday." (POLITICO)
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