Today in OpenGov: Welcome to Miami


In today's edition, the White House looks to roll back a drone strike disclosure requirement, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will have to release some emails he wanted to keep secret, the UK votes to open business register information, Members of Congress plan to retire to K Street, and more.   


Image via BuzzFeed.
  • The Justice Department overhauled its manual for US Attorneys, removing language on press freedom and access to information. Zoe Tillman reports that "since the fall, the US Department of Justice has been overhauling its manual for federal prosecutors. In: Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough-on-crime policies. Out: A section titled “Need for Free Press and Public Trial…The changes include new sections that underscore…the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on government leaks — there is new language admonishing prosecutors not to share classified information and directing them to report contacts with the media.” (BuzzFeed) Our view? These would be significant changes in any administration. But given the Trump Administration’s regular attacks on the members of the press and internal leaks, these edits are even more alarming.
  • Two top aides to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt step down amid ethics scrutiny… "Two top aides are leaving the Environmental Protection Agency amid intensifying scrutiny of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s spending and travel. The departures include Albert "Kell" Kelly, the top EPA adviser on Superfund cleanups, and former Secret Service agent Pasquale "Nino” Perrotta, who led Pruitt’s security detail. Their exit follows the resignation of longtime Pruitt ally Samantha Dravis last month." (Bloomberg)
  • …Meanwhile, an EPA whistleblower claimed that Pruitt lied about retaliation during his recent Congressional testimony. "A whistleblower from the Environmental Protection Agency says that Administrator Scott Pruitt was "bold-faced" lying when he told members of Congress that no EPA employees were retaliated against for raising concerns about his spending decisions." (ABC News)
  • The White House will ignore an Executive Order calling for disclosure of drone strike casualties. "The Trump administration has chosen to ignore an executive order that requires the White House to issue an annual report on the number of civilians and enemy fighters killed by American counterterrorism strikes." (Washington Post)
  • The RNC is holding a conference at a Trump Organization resort in Florida, sending nearly $250k the president's way. "The Republican National Committee (RNC) has spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on a Trump Organization resort in Florida ahead of its conference there this week, financial disclosure documents show. The party will host its spring meeting at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort in South Florida on May 2…The meeting's costs add to the $424,000 already spent by the RNC at Trump properties in the first two months of the year. The RNC has hosted multiple events on Trump properties and also rents office space for the Trump campaign in Trump Tower in New York." (The Hill)

states and cities

Seattle, Washington. 
  • New research shows that Seattle's "democracy voucher" program boosted percentage of campaign funds raised from constituents. "In 2015, Seattle voters enacted a novel democracy voucher program for public campaign financing. The objective of this analysis was to examine whether the democracy voucher program, first used in the 2017 election, led to candidates relying more on constituents, as opposed to non-constituent donors from other parts of the state or country, for their campaign funding…The results indicate that candidates who chose to participate in the voucher program raised a notably higher percentage of their funds from constituents than the typical percentages raised in pre-voucher elections, or by non-voucher-funded 2017 candidates." (Free Speech for People) You can read the full report right here
  • Appeals court rules that New York City must disclose emails with outside advisers. "An appeals court has shot down Mayor de Blasio's attempt to keep secret emails between City Hall and outside advisers dubbed 'agents of the city.' The court ruled that de Blasio must hand over the emails after a lawsuit by NY1 and other news organizations seeking their disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Law…De Blasio was seeking to shield communications with consultants like Jonathan Rosen and his firm BerlinRosen, who were hired by the mayor's now-defunct and scandal-scarred political nonprofit the Campaign for One New York." (New York Daily News)
  • This citizen advisory board to Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality refused to endorse public records fees. "Despite pressure from state officials, a citizen advisory board of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality refused last week to endorse an agency initiative to charge fees for some public records. Officials from the DEQ and Wyoming Attorney General’s office implied during a public meeting Friday that the board had no choice but to support the rule, but board members — appointed by the governor — said that mandate conflicted with their role as defenders of the public interest." (WyoFile)
  • Instant access to the emails of Sarasota, Florida public officials was revoked, sparking controversy. "Instant public access to the emails of hundreds of Sarasota city officials and employees has been restricted by the city in a move some citizens and public records experts call an abandonment of transparency and erosion of public trust. The removal more than a year ago of a city hall kiosk containing access to the emails of hundreds of city employees only recently gained attention after some commissioners discovered immediate access to the emails was revoked." (Government Technology)

around the world

Explore mySociety's data offerings through their new data portal
  • mySociety's new data portal will provide a central source for a wide range of public information. Alex Parsons explains, "mySociety services produce a lot of useful (and interesting!) data…What we haven’t been good at is showing you the full breadth of what we have available, or how component parts can be used together. Sometimes we find users of one aspect of mySociety data being unaware of other relevant datasets. To fix this problem, we’ve created a new data portal – –  to bring all the data we publish into one place." (mySociety)
  • Lawmakers in the UK vote to open up business register information, in a boost for efforts to fight corruption and money laundering. As Naomi Hirst explained yesterday, "the UK government voted for transparency. By agreeing to push the UK’s Overseas Territories to publish public registers of the real owners of their companies, the UK has led the world in one of the biggest moves we have seen in the fight against corruption for years. This is HUGE…The anonymous companies for sale in these jurisdictions allow the corrupt and the criminal to steal, hide and move suspect funds around the world. And over a year ago, the Panama Papers demonstrated their importance, as they revealed that more than half of the companies named in the papers were registered in the UK’s Overseas Territories." (Global Witness
  • Turkey's government will write checks to 12 million retirees weeks before an upcoming election, drawing criticism. "More than 12 million Turkish retirees, or about 15 percent of the total population, will get a check in the mail from the government a week before elections on June 24. The ruling party says the payment will be the first of two tied to national holidays, yet to many they look more like a blatant and expensive effort to buy support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s seeking to extend his 16 years in power. The two payments of 1,000 liras each ($244) will cost Turkey an additional $5.9 billion by year end." (Bloomberg)

washington watch

Image via The Atlantic.
  • Many members of Congress are retiring this year, but if history is a guide they won't all leave Washington… "In all, more members of the House are forgoing reelection than in any year since 1992, when 65 representatives called it quits, according to the Pew Research Center. Among Republicans, it’s an even bigger exodus—the most since before World War II…if recent history is a guide, many…congressional retirees won’t be leaving the Beltway at all. As candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike win over voters with jeremiads against Washington, pledging to bring their hometown values to a capital city overrun by lobbyists and special interests. But once their terms are up, a surprising number of these same politicians don’t return home. They stick around town, joining law firms, think tanks, and lobbying shops." (The Atlantic)
  • …Meanwhile, these candidates are spending big from their own wallets in an effort to replace those retiring members. "Maryland Democrat David Trone dropped $3 million into his campaign last quarter. Tennessee radiologist George Flinn Jr. added $1.4 million. A former California lottery winner has spent $2 million, so far. The growing number of departures by House incumbents this cycle is leaving a Wild West of open-seat races, some of which feature deep-pocketed candidates elbowing for a two-year stint in Congress." (Open Secrets)
  • With less than eight months until the midterm elections, Congress should act to close online advertising loopholes. Karen Kornbluh writes, "it has been two weeks since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hearings on Capitol Hill where many committee members on both sides of the aisle voiced the need for regulation but deferred to the company to police its own platform…However, new data takes away the option for delay. While Congress may prefer to wait for Facebook and other tech platforms to self-regulate before considering legislative options, it must take steps to protect the upcoming election. Current loopholes allowing secret funding and targeting of campaign ads—including by foreign state-sponsored operatives—should be closed to prevent another outbreak of viral political disinformation and division." (Council on Foreign Relations) We agree. As a  first step, Congress should move to pass the Honest Ads Act, which has been endorsed by Facebook and Twitter and would add much-needed transparency and accountability for online political ads. 


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