Today in OpenGov: Insufficient Commitment


In today's edition, Trump businesses benefit from GOP campaign spending, Baton Rouge engineers its open data for community involvement, the case for closing digital loopholes in campaign finance transparency becomes more clear, more bad news for EPA chief Scott Pruitt, Hungarians take to the streets, and more. 


The Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. 
  • Trump businesses made more than $15 million off political groups, federal agencies since 2015. 90% funneled through the Trump presidential campaign. "President Donald Trump’s U.S. businesses have received at least $15.1 million in revenue from political groups and federal agencies since 2015, according to a new report to be released Monday. The money went to Trump’s airplanes, hotels, golf courses, even a bottled water company during the presidential campaign and the first 15 months of his presidency, according to a compilation of known records of the spending by Public Citizen obtained by McClatchy. But it was Trump’s campaign itself that spent the biggest chunk by far – about 90 percent, or $13.4 million." (McClatchy DC)
  • More than 20% of Trump campaign spending this year has gone to legal fees. "President Donald Trump's 2020 reelection campaign has spent about $835,000 in legal fees so far this year, or about 22% of its total spending, according to the latest fundraising reports filed quarterly with the Federal Election Commission. The spending comes as Trump deals with the intensifying special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as an ongoing legal battle with adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford." (BuzzFeed)
  • Small donor fundraising represents another large chunk of Trump campaign spending. "President Trump’s re-election campaign has ramped up its fund-raising this year, bringing in $20.2 million, while investing heavily in cultivating a wide base of small donors, according to reports filed Sunday afternoon with the Federal Election Commission. Mr. Trump’s campaign apparatus spent nearly $8.2 million through the end of last month, with more than 60 percent of that going toward low-dollar fund-raising tools such as solicitations delivered via social media, email, direct mail and telemarketing, the reports show." (New York Times)
  • Judge denies President Trump's request for a exclusive first-look at documents seized by FBI in raid on Michael Cohen. "A federal judge in Manhattan indicated on Monday that she was not prepared to grant President Trump exclusive first access to documents seized in F.B.I. raids on the office of his personal lawyer, and said that she was considering appointing an independent lawyer to assist in reviewing the seized materials. Feeling her way toward a resolution of the high-stakes clash involving Mr. Trump and the federal prosecutors investigating the lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, the judge, Kimba M. Wood, did not grant Mr. Trump’s request to review the trove of materials ahead of prosecutors. But she also decided that prosecutors would not immediately have access to the materials and that Mr. Trump would ultimately receive copies of the documents that pertain to him." (New York Times)
  • The latest roundup of Trump's conflicts includes trips to Panama, Las Vegas, Ukraine, and more. Lynn Walsh checked in with her latest look at Trump's conflicts; "lawyers for the Trump Organization asked the Panamanian president to intervene and help the company as they battle over the former Trump-branded hotel in the country, Trump’s Las Vegas Hotel has limits on hiring family, and questions surround the new national security adviser’s political donation organizations." (Sunlight Foundation)

states and cities

Newly renovated basketball courts at Howell Community Park in Baton Rouge. Photo by BREC.
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana engineers its data with community involvement in mind. "The City-Parish of Baton Rouge, Louisiana wants to make sure residents know about new open datasets as soon as they’re available. Leaders see this as a way to keep residents in the know about new resources, as well as an important part of how governments can and should be transparent in a digital era. A new website brings together all this work in one place." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • New report shows clouds over transparency in the Sunshine State. "Despite having some of the most open public records laws in the country, Florida’s lack of accountability for state or county records requests has resulted in wide variations in fees charged, according to a report released today. The report is based on an investigation by six WUFT News student journalists at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporting was made possible by support from the First Amendment Foundation, the National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Knight Foundation." (NFOIC) You can read the report here.
  • This Senate candidate was locked out of a donor database because he wouldn't stop accessing it from his government office. "Senate candidate Todd Rokita likely violated ethics laws as Indiana's secretary of state by repeatedly accessing a Republican donor database from his government office, prompting party officials to lock him out of the system until he angrily complained, three former GOP officials told The Associated Press" (Indianapolis Patch)
  • After donating $200,000 to oppose a proposed privacy measure in California, Facebook backs out. "Facebook recently teamed up with Google, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon in order to kill a privacy law that's being considered in California. The five companies each donated $200,000 to create a $1 million fund to oppose the California Consumer Privacy Act, a ballot question that could be voted on in the November 2018 state election. If approved, the law would make it easier for consumers to find out what information is collected about them and to opt out of the sale or sharing of any personal information. But as Facebook handles the fallout from a privacy breach affecting up to 87 million users, the social network is dropping its public opposition to the proposed privacy law and won't donate any more money to the opposition." (Ars Technica)
  • D.C. open government office needs more independence, stable budget advocates argue. "The D.C. Open Government Coalition testified Friday (13) against proposed budget cuts for the Office of Open Government and in favor of a separate board of directors. OGC Government Affairs chair Bob Becker reviewed these and other problems but only the budget came up in questions, and that only briefly.  The hearing was before the Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety chaired by Charles Allen (D-Ward 6)." (D.C. Open Government Coalition)

washington watch

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week.
  • New research paper finds that the most divisive online political ads were not disclosed to FEC. Our friends at Issue one and the Campaign Legal Center explain that they, " in conjunction with University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Young Mie Kim and her team, Project DATA (Digital Ad Tracking & Analysis), published the results of the first peer-reviewed survey of Facebook political ads in the 2016 elections. The study by Professor Kim and her team provides compelling support for the Honest Ads Act, bipartisan legislation that has been endorsed by tech companies including Facebook and Twitter that would help root out foreign interference in U.S. elections and make digital advertisers more accountable." (Issue One) You can read the full paper here.
  • In wake of Mark Zuckerberg's appearances in Washington, need for regulation is clearer than ever. Alex Howard responded to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Congressional testimony, arguing that "the problems that exist with Facebook existed before these hearings and will persist now that they are done. Zuckerberg repeatedly said that he’s open to regulation but was rarely held to account on exactly what that should mean, or when, deferring instead to follow up with staff or work with Congress. The devil is always in the details. Unless Congress takes more time to understand and then to craft careful remedies, the emerging challenges for open government that Facebook is implicated in – from automated activity to algorithmic transparency to public speech on private platforms to data ethics and protections to anti-trust concerns to artificial intelligence – will most likely be obscured by more sound and fury emanating from Washington that ultimately signifies nothing." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • The Center for Public Integrity is suing the EPA over public-records delays. "The Center for Public Integrity filed suit Friday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking a variety of public records the Center has been pursuing for up to eight months. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges the EPA failed to respond in timely fashion to 25 Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Center journalists in 2017 and early 2018." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • The Pentagon has been embracing secrecy over recent months. "In just the last few weeks and months, U.S. military officials imposed new restrictions on media interviews and base visits, at least temporarily; they blocked (but later permitted) publication of current data on the extent of insurgent control of Afghanistan; and they classified previously unclassified information concerning future flight tests of ballistic missile defense systems." (Secrecy News)

the cabinet room

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
  • IG finds that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his chief of staff had hand in approval of controversial raises for top aides to administrator Scott Pruitt. "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on the pay raise of at least one employee through an obscure hiring authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act, while his chief of staff signed off on several others on his behalf, according to a new report. The report contradicts Pruitt’s previous claims that he was unaware of the raises." (Government Executive) Read the report here
  • GAO says that the EPA violated multiple laws while buying a $43,000 phone booth for Pruitt. "The Environmental Protection Agency violated multiple federal laws by spending $43,000 for a soundproof booth connected to Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office, according to a new report." (Government Executive) Read the report here
  • Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke gave a speech to Las Vegas' hockey team, neglected to mention that one of his biggest campaign donors owns the team. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke failed to disclose relevant information to ethics officials when he traveled to Las Vegas to speak to the Golden Knights hockey team last year, the department’s watchdog reported Monday — including the fact that one of his biggest campaign donors owned the team. The report by Interior's inspector general also raised questions about whether taxpayers should have been on the hook for a $12,000 charter flight that Zinke took after the speech from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana." (POLITICO)

around the world

Huge crowds protesting in Budapest, Hungary. Screenshot of a video posted by Ben Aris. 
  • Fears over threats to democratic freedoms spark mass protests in Hungary. "Tens of thousands of Hungarians packed Budapest’s most iconic avenue to protest Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s re-election, saying it may further stifle democratic freedoms in the ex-Communist European Union member. Protesters marched on Saturday from the Opera on Andrassy Avenue to the square in front of Parliament in the biggest anti-government protest in years." (Bloomberg)
  • Romanian President opts to keep top anti-corruption official. "Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis rejected on Monday a proposal by the justice minister to dismiss the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor. The president has the final say in the process, which means Laura CodruČ›a Kövesi, the chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), is expected to keep her job for now." (POLITICO)
  • Open Data Day events show need for "generalistic" as well as more specific approaches to open data. Paulina Bustos explains that "after almost 5 years of working in the open data movement, it feels like we have come to a crossroads. We are now wondering if we should continue working on creating more generalistic open data or if we need to start opening with specific topics in mind. The reality is that we need to pursue doing both. A very good example of these two approaches are the Open Data Day events that happened in São Paulo and Quito this year. Here we narrate both events highlighting our learnings and outcomes." (Open Knowledge)


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