Today in OpenGov: Stifling


In today's edition, Missouri's embattled governor asks for some restraint, Kris Kobach shows contempt, Inspectors General outline consistent cross-government issues, Facebook doesn't appear so keen to embrace new EU data protection rules for all its users, and more. 

states and cities

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Image credit: Lonnie Tague, United States Department of Justice.
  • New York joins Virginia in investigation of veterans charity that spends most of its money on telemarketing, leader's salary. "The New York Attorney General’s office has joined Virginia officials in investigating a veterans organization that spends nearly all of the money it raises on telemarketing consultants and its own leader’s salary." ( Center for Public Integrity)
  • New York's Attorney General wants to find a way around Presidential pardons at the state level. "Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is urging lawmakers to change the state’s double jeopardy law in case President Donald Trump attempts to use his pardon power to protect himself or his aides from criminal prosecution. Schneiderman, a Democrat who has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration and the president's business dealings, sent a letter to legislative leaders Wednesday asking them to exempt state charges in cases that involve a presidential pardon from the double jeopardy law." (POLITICO)
  • Embattled Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (R) files restraining order against state Attorney General in attempt to temporarily halt ongoing investigations. "Lawyers for Gov. Eric Greitens have filed a Temporary Restraining Order against Attorney General Josh Hawley which would bar Hawley from investigating the governor for any reason, to include his investigation into the Governor's involvement with The Mission Continues charity. In the request for injunctive relief filed Monday, Greitens' lawyers accuse Hawley of not respecting the presumption of innocence." (KRCG)
  • Meanwhile in Missouri, the state House of Representatives voted to strengthen open records laws. "The Missouri House gave initial approval Tuesday to a bill that would beef up the state’s open records law. The proposal would essentially give the attorney general’s office subpoena power when investigating open records violations. Attorney General Josh Hawley has publicly supported the bill, and previously said his inability to subpoena witnesses tied his hands earlier this year when investigating Gov. Eric Greitens’ office use of a message-destroying app." (Associated Press via the Seattle Times)
  • Public interest groups win legal fees in landmark California open records suit. "In a landmark decision, a California court recently awarded thousands of dollars in legal expenses to a public interest organization that successfully fought a government contractor’s attempt to block the release of public records." (Project on Government Oversight)


The entrance to President Trump's private club, Mar-a-Lago. 
  • President Trump didn't pass up an opportunity to make a Mar-a-Lago sales pitch while meeting with the Japanese prime minister. Matt Shuham pointed out how "President Donald Trump on Tuesday used a photo op with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to promote his club." During the appearance, Trump called "Mar-a-Lago…the Southern White House…And, again, many, many people want to be here. Many of the leaders want to be here. They request specifically.” (Talking Points Memo) Our take? Mar-a-Lago is not the “Southern White House.” It is a private, insecure Trump business where members who pay $200,000 have access to the President along with their guests and the Secret Service has to pay for services. There is only one White House.
  • In a joint press conference with Abe, the President responded to a question about the possibility of firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions or his deputy Rod Rosenstein by calling special counsel investigation a hoax. In answer to Jennifer Jacobs’ question about removing Rosenstein or Sessions, President Trump said that they’re “still here” and claimed, once again, that the special counsel’s probe is a hoax. He also made a remarkably hyperbolic claim about his openness: “As far as the investigation, nobody has ever been more transparent than I have instructed our lawyers — ‘Be totally transparent.’ I believe we've given them 1.4 million pages of documents, if you can believe this. And haven't used — that I know of, or for the most part — presidential powers or privilege.” Our take? We have not observed this White House being more transparent than past administrations, with respect to special counsel investigations, and certainly not in other ways. If you have specific knowledge of historical precedent, please let us know. You can watch the full press conference here.
  • Not far from Mar-a-Lago, the payday lending industry is hosting its annual conference at another Trump property. "At Trump National Doral Golf Club near Miami this week, executives with the nation's payday loan industry are holding their annual conference with receptions, breakout sessions and a golf tournament…It's been a good year for the payday lending industry. Shortly after taking over as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney put tough new regulations for the industry on hold." Mulvaney, it should be noted, took "more than $60,000 in campaign donations from payday lenders while he was in Congress." (NPR)
  • Kris Kobach, the vice chair of President Trump's short-lived "voter fraud" commission, found in contempt of court. "One of U.S. President Donald Trump’s leading voter-fraud investigators was ruled in contempt of court for flouting a judge’s orders to ensure that voters in his home state weren’t misled ahead of the 2016 general election. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was vice chairman of the election integrity commission that the Trump administration disbanded in January, was cited Wednesday by the chief federal judge in Kansas for a 'history of noncompliance and disrespect' for the court’s decisions." (Bloomberg)
  • White House says it will punish Scott Pruitt for wasteful spending "as required by law." "The Trump administration’s top budget and management official told lawmakers on Wednesday he will oversee the punishment of another Cabinet leader found to have violated spending laws…Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s unlawful spending to install a soundproof booth in his office is serious, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told a House appropriations subcommittee, and will be followed up with the penalties as required by law." (Government Executive)
  • Scandals mount for Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is making headlines left and right, for all the wrong reasons. Over the past two days, the man in charge of managing the nation’s public lands and resources has been accused of wasting taxpayer money on expensive travel; failing to disclose potential conflicts of interest; having an inappropriately close relationship to a top energy lobbyist; and lying about his professional credentials." (The New Republic)

washington watch

  • New report highlights cross-governmental concerns regularly identified by Inspectors General. "A new report by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE)…for the first time…[provides] a guide to the most common concerns that cut across agency lines. The council represents inspectors general, the officials who work inside and for federal agencies, yet whose investigative responsibilities require them to be independent of agency leadership." (Washington Post)
  • Senate Judiciary Committee will consider bipartisan proposal to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, despite Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's refusal to bring it before full Senate. "Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said his committee will take up legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller despite opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)." (The Hill)
  • Census, GAO disagree on 2020 count readiness. "Uncertainty over the impact the addition of the citizenship question and IT systems' readiness dominated a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing intended to discuss the fiscal year 2019 budget of the Census Bureau. Despite the boosted funding for fiscal year 2018 and proposed increases to round out the decade, 'significant uncertainties lie ahead' for the bureau, the Government Accountability Office's Director of Strategic Issues Robert Goldenkoff said." (Federal Computer Week)
  • Federal FOIA Advisory Committee submits draft recommendations, focuses on proactive disclosure and process. "A federal advisory committee finalized a series of draft recommendations for the National Archivist and agencies to improve management of the Freedom of Information Act. The FOIA Advisory Committee approved 37 recommendations for agencies to implement, 23 of which cover the topics of process management and proactive disclosure." (Federal Computer Week)

around the world

  • Facebook moves to make sure that 1.5 billion people won't be protected by new EU data protection regulations. "If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller…Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland. Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25." (Reuters)
  • Canadian province arrests 19 year old for downloading public information after they inappropriately published a raft of personal data. "A 19 year old in Nova Scotia wanted to learn more about the provincial teachers' dispute, so he filed some Freedom of Information requests; he wasn't satisfied with the response so he decided to dig through other documents the province had released under open records laws to look for more, but couldn't find a search tool that was adequate to the job…So he wrote a one-line program to grab all the public records, planning on searching them once they were on his hard-drive. On Wednesday morning, 15 police officers raided his home, terrorising his family…The young man now faces criminal charges and possible jail-time. The reason for the raid and the arrests? The government had unwisely uploaded private, confidential documents to its open directory of public open records, and so they are charging this teen with improperly accessing these confidential documents." (Boing Boing) Our take? This is an absurd and dangerous overreach. We hope that Nova Scotia will address this situation and encourage public to access public information, not penalize Canadians for exercising their right to know.
  • Singapore has a plan to fight "online falsehoods," but will it stifle free speech instead? "A committee was created by Singapore Parliament in January 2018 to address the problem of 'deliberate online falsehoods', or disinformation on the internet. The committee's mandate is to examine 'causes, consequences, and countermeasures' related to the spread of disinformation. In a rare move for Singapore, the committee solicited the views of the public and held public hearings to discuss various sides of the issue…Although a wide range of voices were heard, civil society members who argued against new legislation reported that they were 'harangued, harassed, threatened and misrepresented' in the hearings." (Global Voices)


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