Today in OpenGov: PAC(king) it in


In today's edition, the CPB has a corruption problem, Massachusetts has some issues with access to information, President Trump limits the guest list at his first state dinner, protests push Armenia's longterm leader to step down, and more. 

washington watch

  • Multiple Congressional candidates move to disavow donations from embattled veterans PAC. "Five congressional candidates — including incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and four U.S. House challengers — say they will either return or donate to charity the contributions they received from a veterans-focused political action committee whose sister nonprofit is under investigation in New York and Virginia." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Sen Kamala Harris (D-CA) joins list of 2020 hopefuls to reject corporate PAC cash. "Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said Monday she will no longer accept donations from corporate PACs, the latest in a string of progressive Democrats who have vowed to do so…Harris joins Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.) in pledging not to accept corporate PAC donations." (The Hill)
  • Advocacy group sues Federal Trade Commission for documents on Facebook's privacy practices. "An advocacy group is suing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for records on Facebook’s privacy practices, arguing that there’s a “clear public interest” in learning details about the social media giant’s policies following revelations of a data scandal last month. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Friday filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to push for the unredacted release of biennial privacy assessments that Facebook agreed to submit under a 2011 consent agreement with the FTC." (The Hill)
  • Watchdog sues dark money group with ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan. "The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued the nonprofit American Action Network on Monday, the latest turn in a quest to reclassify the Paul Ryan-aligned nonprofit as a political committee and force it to reveal its secret donor list. The lawsuit, which ramps up CREW’s complaint against AAN after the Federal Election Commission twice voted not to act, could offer an unusual window into the inner workings of one of the country’s largest political nonprofits." (POLITICO)
  • More than 200 Customs and Border Protection employees have been arrested for corruption since 2004, with 13 arrests during the Trump administration. "Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has a longstanding corruption problem, and the Trump Administration hasn’t been immune. At least 13 employees have been arrested on corruption-related charges since the start of the Trump Administration, according to records obtained by the Project On Government Oversight through the Freedom of Information Act. The charges, which range from drug smuggling to bribery to theft to sharing top-secret government data, are only the latest in a longer list of corruption charges against more than 200 CBP employees who have been arrested from October 2004 through mid-March 2018, according to the records." (Project on Government Oversight)
  • Supreme Court considers a case that could have far reaching effects on how administrative judges are appointed. Robert Barnes explores the case of Raymond J. Lucia, which the Supreme Court is currently reviewing. "The court is considering whether administrative law judges, like the one in Lucia’s case, are simply employees of the agency, or as Lucia contends, should be considered officers of the United States, as defined by the Constitution. That would mean appointment by either the president, the courts, or heads of departments. There are administrative law judges throughout the federal government, and any number of decisions could become suspect if the court agrees with Lucia. An added twist in the case is that the Trump administration has switched sides and supports Lucia." (Washington Post)

states and cities

The John A. Wilson Building, home of Washington, D.C.'s mayor and city council. Image credit: David Gaines.
  • The Washington, D.C. City Council wants a new research unit to focus on building a more transparent picture of city education. "A new staff in the office of the legislative auditor, guided by a 16-member advisory board, could begin as early as this fall to take stock of the city’s education system, under a bill introduced April 10 by Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and eight cosponsors. The unit, to be called the D.C. Education Research Collaborative, will do research on its own and under contract with others, and will seek outside grants. An early assignment is to collect every scrap of data on all D.C. schools (DCPS and charter) and assess gaps in collection and management, using comparisons with state-of-the-art data capabilities in other systems nationwide." (D.C. Open Government Coalition)
  • Weak public records laws in Massachusetts allow the legislature, judiciary, and governors office to operate in secret. "Deliberations on the $41 billion state budget are held in secret. Committee hearings and party caucuses on bills affecting millions of people are closed to the press and public. Requests for documents and information are routinely denied. Massachusetts is the only state where the Legislature, governor’s office and judiciary all claim to be exempt from the state’s public records law, which has led open government groups and others to consistently label its First Amendment protections the weakest in the nation." (Gloucester Times)
  • Colorado governor signs law that would limit public access to Denver Health and Hospital Authority records. According to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, Governor John Hickenlooper signed "SB 18-149, intended to protect Denver Health and Hospital Authority from 'data miners.'" They have more background on the bill here.


President Donald Trump and President Emmanuel Macron at a previous meeting in Paris, France. Image credit: The US Embassy in France.

Tonight, President Trump will host French President Emmanuel Macron at the first state dinner of his term. In a disturbing — if characteristic — break from tradition and precedent, President Trump did not invite any Democratic members of Congress or media representatives to the event.

Our view? Good democratic governance relies upon upholding civility in public discourse, respect for the legitimacy of the political opposition, and defending the freedom of the press to serve its essential public function in reporting fraud, waste and abuse of power.

Elsewhere, in Trumpland:

  • President Trump is reportedly relying on his personal cellphone more in recent days, raising some security concerns. "President Donald Trump is increasingly relying on his personal cell phone to contact outside advisers, multiple sources inside and outside the White House told CNN, as Trump returns to the free-wheeling mode of operation that characterized the earliest days of his administration…Former President Barack Obama was permitted to use a Blackberry during his presidency. However, the White House said at the time that the device given to Obama was outfitted with enhanced security to protect potentially classified talks. Mary McCord, who used to head the Justice Department's national security division, says smartphones are notorious for their security vulnerabilities." (CNN)
  • The RNC spent nearly $225,000 at Mar-a-Lago in March, setting a record. "The Republican National Committee (RNC) spent nearly $225,000 at President Trump’s private Palm Beach, Fla., resort, Mar-a-Lago, in March, according to Federal Election Commission reports…The newly disclosed spending is the most money that the RNC has spent at Mar-a-Lago in a single month. In January, the RNC spent $62,700 at the Trump property." (The Hill)
  • Flight records shed light on disagreement between Trump and James Comey over a stay in Russia. "President Donald Trump twice gave James Comey an alibi for why a salacious report about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow couldn’t be true: He never even spent the night in Russia during that trip, Trump told the former FBI director, according to Comey’s memos about the conversations. Yet the broad timeline of Trump’s stay, stretching from Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, through the following Sunday morning, has been widely reported…Now, flight records obtained by Bloomberg provide fresh details. Combined with existing accounts and Trump’s own social-media posts, they capture two days that, nearly five years later, loom large in the controversy engulfing the White House and at the heart of the Comey memos, which the Justice Department turned over last week to Congress." (Bloomberg)
  • The latest conflicts out of Trumpland? A loan, a check, and a party. Lynn Walsh rounded up the latest conflicts for President Trump and his inner circle, inlcuding "new details emerged showing Jared Kushner’s business ties to Citigroup and Apollo Management are “more extensive than initially reported,” the U.S. government released a copy of the check the Trump Organization sent to the U.S. Treasury Department, and the Philippines is planning to host a government-sponsored party at President J. Donald Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel." (Sunlight Foundation)

around the world

Revelers take to the streets following the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan. Image credit: Joshua Kucera.
  • Longtime Armenian leader resigns amid peaceful protests. "Armenia's longtime leader stepped down April 23, toppled by an overwhelming wave of peaceful, homegrown protests in what had been one of the post-Soviet world's most stagnant states. The move set off a wave of unprecedented celebration in the country and set the stage for what promises to be a dramatic, unpredictable political future." (Global Voices)
  • New report indicates "strong suspicion" of corruption in major EU human rights body. "A new report says there is a “strong suspicion” of corruption in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, the international human rights organization. An independent group published the findings of a 10 month-long investigation last night." (POLITICO)
  • The Swiss statistical system is trying to maintain its role as a reliable information source among major changes. "​​​​​​​As a growing tide of false information threatens the integrity of political debate, the Swiss statistical system is looking to reinforce its role as a reliable information source.​​​​​​​ The organisation responsible for producing official statistics in Switzerland is facing a challenge unlike any other in its 150-year history: the proliferation of data from non-official and sometimes dubious sources. In the digital age, such unverified information can make the rounds quickly and even distort the facts." (SwissInfo)
  • This Philippine professor wants to ensure that open data remains open to help with resilience efforts. "One of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, the Philippines is exposed to several natural hazards such as floods, storm surges, landslides, and earthquakes. There is no lack of data on this stored in government databanks, waiting to be unearthed. Rappler reporter Aika Rey speaks to Mahar Lagmay, University of the Philippines (UP) Resilience Institute Executive Director, about his new book Open Data Law for Climate Resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction." (Rappler)


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