Today in OpenGov: Pardon Me?


In today's edition, Bethlehem, PA wrote its open data policy with a little help from our "wizard," President Trump considers a pardon, more Facebook fallout in Washington, an open data refresh in the UK, and more.  

Also today, Sunlight's Deputy Director Alex Howard will be participating in an event sponsored by Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Stanford University. Public Record Under Threat: News and the Archive in the Age of Digital Distribution will be held from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM PDT at Stanford University as well as streamed live on the web. Learn more and join here!

states and cities

Bethlehem City Council. Photo via The Morning Call.
  • How Bethlehem PA wrote its own open data policy—and you can, too. Alex Dodds explains that "it doesn’t take a huge staff or financial investment to start publishing open city data. Just ask Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Bethlehem used Sunlight’s Open Data Policy wizard to create a draft open data policy. In November 2017, the city passed its first open data ordinance. We are always excited to see cities using our tools, and were curious to know why Bethlehem’s leaders support an open approach to city data, and how it fits into the city’s broader priorities." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Join us on April 18th to explore fresh ideas to support community use of open data. The Sunlight Open Cities team will be hosting a a community of practice workshop and interactive conversation about how to help more residents understand and use your city’s open data at 1:00 PM EST on the 18th. Learn more about how to participate here.  
  • Pressure builds on Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (R) to resign following new sexual misconduct allegations. "The pressure on Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to resign escalated dramatically Thursday, with two state Republican leaders and a top donor joining the call for him to step down a day after the release of an explosive report alleging he initiated unwanted sexual contact with a woman who worked as his hairdresser. A onetime rising national star, Greitens is now in his lowest standing among Republican officials and donors since taking office in early 2017, facing intense criticism and even talk of impeachment." (Washington Post)
  • Eviction Lab aims to build database of evictions across the United States. Sunlight's Katya Abazajian shared and praised the organization's efforts, which include a database that "represents the largest accumulation of U.S. court records related to eviction ever compiled." Learn more at


Vice President Dick Cheney with Scooter Libby in the foreground. Credit: National Archives.
  • President Trump will reportedly pardon Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to VP Cheney who was convicted for lying during leak investigation. "President Donald Trump is poised to pardon Scooter J. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, according to sources familiar with the president’s thinking…the move would mark another controversial pardon for Trump and could raise questions as an increasing number of the president’s political allies have landed themselves in legal jeopardy…Libby was convicted in 2007 of lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice in the investigation into the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, a former covert CIA operative. Then-President George Bush commuted Libby's 30-month sentence, sparing him prison time, but didn't pardon him." (ABC News)
  • We joined more than 300 civil rights, faith, and labor groups calling on Congress to hold hearings on the proposed Census citizenship question. In identical letters sent to leadership of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committees the groups call "on Congress to hold oversight hearings on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to include a new citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The signatories say that adding the untested question would jeopardize the accuracy of the census count in all communities for the next 10 years." Learn more and read the full letter via
  • Senate confirms former coal lobbyist to number 2 spot at EPA. "The Senate on Thursday confirmed the Environmental Protection Agency’s second-in-command, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who not only shares the deregulatory zeal of Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. chief, but also his doubtful view of climate science." (New York Times)
  • Meanwhile, Senators call for investigation into reports that Scott Pruitt uses at least 4 different email addresses. In a letter to the EPA inspector general Senator's Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Carper (D-DE) requested an investigation into whether the use of 4 EPA email accounts by Pruitt complies with the Federal Records Act. The letter also touched on a number of new and ongoing controversies surrounding Pruitt, which Eric Lipton detailed in the New York Times. You can read the full letter here
  • Exploring the Trump administration's habit of removing information that it doesn't like. Rebecca Ruiz writes that, alongside the "autocratic impulses" displayed by President Trump on Twitter, a "similar strain of autocratic thinking has popped up across the Trump administration. Specifically, some of the president's political appointees and their staffs have a habit of disappearing information they don't like, without explanation." Sunlight's Toly Rinberg weighed in on the importance of public notification, saying "If you don’t notify the public, but you’ve made significant changes to content of public value, that generates confusion and sows doubt in the authority of the agency and integrity of past information." (Mashable)
  • A member of Trump's "vote fraud" panel is being sued for voter intimidation. "A conservative activist and voter fraud alarmist is facing a federal lawsuit Thursday over dubious allegations of massive voter fraud in Virginia. A civil rights group and four Virginia voters filed a suit against J. Christian Adams and the legal outfit he runs, alleging that Adams and the group violated state and federal law when it accused thousands of Virginians, many of them eligible citizens, of voting illegally." (Mother Jones)
  • Latest report of National Enquirer parent company buying and burying controversial stories about Trump indicate a pattern. As Ronan Farrow details, the latest story, which involves "a former Trump Tower doorman named Dino Sajudin…agreeing to become a source and to accept thirty thousand dollars for exclusive rights to information he had been told: that Donald Trump, who had launched his Presidential campaign five months earlier, may have fathered a child with a former employee in the late nineteen-eighties…" may lack veracity, but "legal experts said that A.M.I.’s payment to Sajudin is significant because it establishes the company’s pattern of buying and burying stories that could be damaging to Trump during the Presidential campaign." (The New Yorker)
  • Full disclosure around Mueller investigation would defeat its purpose, experts say. Matthew Rosza talked to experts, including Sunlight's own John Wonderlich and our friend Jesse Franzblau at Open the Government, about the " claim was that Mueller was overstepping his bounds because we, the American people, don't really know what he wants from the president." They tended to disagree with that assertion, with Wonderlich arguing "part of the point of an investigation is that you're following the facts and the implications to where they lead…So to say the public deserves to know where it's going would be to presuppose that there is some outcome in mind rather than a merit-based process of investigation based on standards and procedures prescribed in the law." Franzblau added that "there are definitely a lot of legal bounds that the special counsel is not able to disclose a lot of information to the public, for obvious reasons. There is grand jury information, there is a lot of sensitive evidence information collected through sensitive means." (

washington watch

Former Rep. Steve Stockman and his wife arrive at a federal courthouse in Houston, TX. Image: Godofredo A. Vasquez / Houston Chronicle.
  • Former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) convicted on 23 out of 24 counts in fraud case. "A federal jury Houston Thursday convicted former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman of being the mastermind behind a wide-ranging fraud scheme, using hefty charitable donations from top-level conservative donors to cover personal expenses and campaign debts. After deliberating more than 15 hours over three days, the jury found Stockman guilty of all but one of the 24 counts brought against him last year." (Houston Chronicle) As Houston Chronicle editor Lise Olsen pointed out, reporters from the Chronicle and the Sunlight Foundation were the first to report on Stockman's illegal activities. 
  • We helped Politifact check Mark Zuckerberg's statements to Congress. Alex Howard explained that Facebook holds a lot of data about users that they cannot access, "'There's a difference between what you are putting into Facebook and what Facebook is collecting about you,' Howard said. 'You can see your profile. But you only have access to the content you put on the platform. You can take down your photos, but not the record of who reacted to them. Not the metadata, not your search history, or your activity stream.'" (Politifact)
  • Senators announce additional privacy proposals in wake of Facebook hearings. "Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Kennedy (R-LA) will introduce legislation to protect the privacy of users’ online data, the pair said today in a joint statement. Though a bill has not been drafted yet, the legislation would, among other things, give users recourse options if their data is breached, and the right to opt out of data tracking and collection." (The Verge)
  • The Interior Department reassigned at least 27 senior executives without a plan or explanation, according to new IG report. "Over the summer and fall of 2017, the Department of Interior failed to document its plan and reasons to reassign at least 27 senior executives, according to its inspector general." You can read the whole report here. (Federal Computer Week)
  • Florida Senate could become one of the most expensive ever. "Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) decision to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D) sets the stage for a contest that could become the most expensive election race of the year — and potentially in U.S. history. Strategists in the state predict that the Scott-Nelson showdown could come close to or surpass Pennsylvania’s Senate race in 2016, which cost a record $188 million in total candidate and outside spending." (The Hill)

around the world

  • The relaunched Data.Gov.UK represents a step forward. As we pointed out, a transatlantic gauntlet has been thrown down with the new "Find open data" service, and once again it's on American groups like the USDS, 18F, OMB, and the GSA to up their open data game. Learn more about the redesign and the Find open data service here.
  • Tanzania imposes registration requirements, $900 per year fee on bloggers, limiting freedom of expression. "Blogging has been popular in Tanzania for more than a decade, enabling writers and independent journalists to express views and report news that might not otherwise appear in mainstream media. But as of last month, this kind of work will come with a price tag. On March 16, 2018, the United Republic of Tanzania issued the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations demanding that bloggers must register and pay over USD $900 per year to publish online…The new regulations have far-reaching implications for freedom of expression and human rights." (Global Voices)
  • European Parliament considers sanctioning Hungary over rule of law reversals. "The European Union should initiate a process that could result in the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights in the bloc because other measures have failed to reverse democratic backsliding in the eastern member, the European Parliament said in a draft report." (Bloomberg)


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