Today in OpenGov: Emoluments Shmemoluments


In today's edition, we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, Rudy Giuliani makes a statement, tactical data helps nonprofits in Wisconsin, a coalition asks Mick Mulvaney to maintain public access to important data, and more.  

around the world

  • Today, celebrate World Press Freedom Day. "The main event, jointly organized by UNESCO and the Government of the Republic of Ghana, will take place in Accra, Ghana on 2 – 3 May. This year’s global theme is ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’, and will cover issues of media and the transparency of the political process, the independence and media literacy of the judicial system, and the accountability of state institutions towards the public. The Day will also examine contemporary challenges of ensuring press freedom online." Learn more via UNESCO.
  • Next week, celebrate OpenGov Week all around the world. You can check out events happening around the world here and learn more about the event, which is sponsored by the Open Government Partnership, at
  • Malaysian opposition leader being investigated under the country's new "fake news" law. "Malaysian opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad is under investigation for a potential breach of a new fake news law, less than a week before an election that has him vying with Prime Minister Najib Razak for the crucial votes of ethnic Malays. Mahathir, a former premier who was the country’s longest-serving leader, has not been charged." (Bloomberg)
  • New report indicates that some European countries are backsliding on anti-corruption efforts. "Several European countries reversed reforms introduced to fight corruption and failed to fully implement new measures, according to a report released Thursday by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group (GRECO). The Strasbourg-based human rights body found that national legal initiatives introduced in some countries — including Greece, Romania and Poland — reversed anti-corruption measures or put countries at risk of violating international anti-corruption standards." (POLITICO)


The Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. 
  • In Fox News interview, Rudy Giuliani indicates that President Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for Stormy Daniels payment. "In a wide-ranging interview on Fox News' "Hannity" on Wednesday night, Rudy Giuliani told host Sean Hannity that President Donald Trump reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, $130,000 that Cohen paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election in exchange for her silence about a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006." (Fox News) Why is this problematic? Many, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in a formal complaint, have argued that President Trump may have broken the law by not reporting the payment to Daniels on his financial disclosure forms. Giuliani's revelations, as Richard Hasen argued in Slate, could indicate campaign finance violations as well. "If what Giuliani says is true, and if the payments were made to help the campaign and not (just) to help Trump personally, the campaign may be implicated in illegal activity. If Trump knew that Cohen was advancing him a $130,000 loan for campaign purposes, that would have to be reported by the campaign, as would the payments Giuliani said Trump made in installments to Cohen. These would be campaign expenditures that the committee has to keep track of."
  • T-Mobile CEO, trying to build support for merger with Sprint, stays at Trump hotel on DC trip. "As he made the rounds of Washington to convince the Trump administration that his company should be permitted to buy Sprint Corp., T-Mobile US Inc. Chief Executive Officer John Legere chose the logical place to stay: the Trump International Hotel. Twitter users posted pictures of Legere mugging with other visitors in the lobby of the hotel, which has become the place to stay for people currying favor with the government." (Bloomberg)
  • President Trump asked a court to throw out the emoluments case against him. "President Donald Trump has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit accusing him of violating the Constitution's Emoluments Clause related to private payments from other governments. Trump is asking the judge to dismiss the complaint against him as an individual. He's also being sued separately for violating the Emoluments Clause — which prohibits federal officeholders from receiving gifts and payments from foreign states or their representatives — in his official capacity as President." (CNN)
  • FCC Commissioner violated federal law while advocating for President Trump's reelection at a public event. "Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly violated federal law by advocating for the reelection of President Donald Trump during CPAC in February, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel…O'Rielly violated the Hatch Act, which forbids most federal officials from engaging in partisan advocacy, OSC’s Erica Hamrick wrote in a letter [Tuesday] to the Project on Government Oversight." (POLITICO)

states and cities

Screenshot from a short video explaining how to use the data toolkit included in the City of Madison, WI's 2018-2019 Safe and Thriving Communities grant application.
  • How a tactical data toolkit will help nonprofits in Madison, Wisconsin make the case for their work. Yesterday, the Sunlight Open Cities team wrote that they "are incredibly proud to present the result of our Tactical Data Engagement project with the City of Madison, WI. The final product is a data toolkit designed to help nonprofit organizations working to reduce youth violence on Madison’s Northside find and use open data to better contextualize their work and goals in grant applications to the city. The toolkit was written to serve the specific needs and data capacities of local nonprofit staff working to better understand and serve their neighborhood." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Listen up: Sunlight's Stephen Larrick talked tactical data engagement and putting city data to use with the GovEx Data Points podcast. "Enabling more use of public data is a key challenge for cities across the country. This week, we will be talking with our partners from the Sunlight Foundation about their efforts to improve Tactical Data Engagement. For this episode, we’re joined by Stephen Larrick, Open Cities Director at Sunlight. Stephen leads all city-focused work for Sunlight, including work we’ve done together on open data through the What Works Cities Initiative." (GovEx)
  • Trust in local governments is going up and innovation is playing a role. Steven Bosacker explains that "Polling data from Gallup confirms the growing trust in local government over the past 45 years, and especially at the city level, and the results of our most recent Equipt to Innovate survey detail a host of examples that demonstrate why this may be…Cities across America are breaking down the walls of City Hall, and busting the silos between departments inside, to partner broadly and bring the best minds to the biggest challenges." (Governing)
  • Oakland, California asserts community control and oversight of surveillance technology. "Late Tuesday evening, the Oakland City Council formally approved a new city ordinance that imposes community control over the use of surveillance technology in the city. Oakland is now one of a number of California cities, including Berkeley and Davis, that mandates a formal annual report that details 'how the surveillance technology was used,' among other requirements." (Ars Technica)

keeping up with the cabinet

Washington, DC. Via the National Parks Service.
  • We joined a coalition urging Mick Mulvaney to maintain public access to CFPB consumer complaint data. The group argued that "maintaining this public complaint database is valuable public service. You have not identified a clear and definite harm resulting from the database that would justify your proposed action to remove it from the public sphere. We respectfully request that you direct the CFPB to maintain the database with no change." Read the full letter via the Project on Government Oversight.
  • The CIA released some more details about Gina Haspel's career, but the move is receiving criticism from human rights groups. "The CIA on Tuesday released a broad timeline of Gina Haspel’s career, part of an ongoing push to coax her imperiled nomination to lead the spy agency past undecided senators in both parties. But the new information is only fueling further pushback from liberal and human rights groups outraged over Haspel’s role in the George W. Bush administration’s use of brutal interrogation tactics on detained terrorist suspects." (POLITICO)
  • Scott Pruitt's planned legal defense fund could cause its own problems… Mark Hand shared the news that "Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is setting up a legal defense fund to pay legal expenses as he faces nearly a dozen investigations into his work as agency chief over the past 15 months." Sunlight's John Wonderlich weighed in, saying that “If Scott Pruitt can’t see the ethical problem in the $50-a-night rental he was getting and all the conflicts of interest wrapped up in that arrangement, then there is certainly cause for concern over how he is going to construct a legal defense fund.” (ThinkProgress) News of the fund was originally reported by the New York Times.
  • …Meanwhile, the Associate Press reports that Pruitt's landlord's husband sought an EPA job for a client… "The lobbyist whose wife rented a condo to Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt at $50 a night sought EPA committee posts for a lobbying client, according to a newly released EPA memo." (Associated Press)
  • …and concerning details emerge around a trip Pruitt took to Morocco. EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco last December was puzzling from the start. Environmental Protection Agency officials didn’t tell reporters about the excursion until after Pruitt had returned…Now, Democrats are demanding more details about the role of a lobbyist in planning Pruitt’s jaunt to Morocco. The lobbyist, Richard Smotkin, accompanied Pruitt for part of the trip, helped facilitate meetings during it and, four months later, won a $40,000-a-month contract with the Moroccan government." (Bloomberg)


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