Today in OpenGov: Shell games


Before you dig into today's news: On May 4, the Huffington Post published an article detailing allegations including a sexual assault by former Sunlight Labs Director Clay Johnson before his tenure at Sunlight (2008-2010), and inappropriate behavior by him at Sunlight prior to his departure, and afterwards elsewhere.  

The Sunlight Foundation is unequivocally committed to preventing harassment and abuse in the workplace. We are committed to a staff culture that prioritizes inclusion and respect, and to having policies and procedures in place that allow us to respond appropriately whenever those values are not adhered to. Read more about ways we are planning to implement this in our full response.

Elsewhere in today's edition, we share our user personas, Michael Cohen plays a shell game, the House considers reviving a key technology office, some good news for access to information in Canada, and much more. 

states and cities

  • Sharing user persona's from Sunlight's Open Cities workshops. The Sunlight Open Cities team explains, "understanding who wants to use public information and why is one of the best things cities can do to improve the impact and relevance of their open data programs. To support that goal, the Sunlight Open Cities team helps city staff develop open data user personas. Ideally this is informed by in-depth user research, but city staff can also draw develop preliminary personas faster and more affordably by drawing on their experiences working with residents. We’ve now held three user persona workshops: one at What Works Cities on Tour in Charlotte, NC in November, one at What Works Cities on Tour in Downey, CA in early March, and one for city department staff in Winston-Salem, NC later in March." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Reducing urban homelessness with a data-driven approach. Amen Ra Mashariki explores the power of "urban analytics" to help fight homelessness. "Urban analytics provides a framework to look at homelessness in a new light. It underpins decision making on individual initiatives, and provides the glue to integrate insights from each initiative for overall understanding. Homelessness cannot be solved without the capable leadership of a city, input and involvement from the people in our communities, and the insight and experiences of the homeless families and children who are looking to us for a solution. Like the best of technologies, urban analytics provides a force multiplier in the effort to gain ground on the still-mushrooming problem of homelessness in New York City and beyond." (Civicist)
  • Evanston, Illinois considers limiting public access to police arrest reports. "Aldermen on Evanston's Human Services Committee urged staff this evening to prepare plans to sharply restrict access to police arrest reports. Led by Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, the four aldermen present for the meeting called for development of a plan that would completely eliminate access to arrest reports on the city's website." (Evanston Now)
  • Police in Washington, DC haven't been collecting mandated data on stops. A lawsuit is trying to change that. "Police stop people in the street all the time. With 33,000 arrests in 2016, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) likely stopped many times more for interactions that did not result in arrest. Existing data couldn't answer questions from citizens and D.C. Council members–questions such as who is stopped, when-where-and-why, for how long, and with what result? The Council in June 2016 directed MPD to begin rigorous documentation of all stops, 14 questions about each, and put aside money for the extra efforts, available October 1 that year. Finding by repeated public records requests that police failed to do the work, three groups filed suit in Superior Court last week (May 4). They are Black Lives Matter D.C., Stop Police Terror Project D.C. and the ACLU of D.C. The suit named three top D.C. officials, the mayor, the deputy mayor for public safety, and the police chief." (D.C. Open Government Coalition


President Donald J. Trump leads a video teleconference monitoring a tropical storm in southeastern Texas. Sunday, August 27, 2017, from a conference room at Camp David. Image Credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.
  • Michael Cohen used a shell company to pay Stormy Daniels, accept funds from companies with Russia ties, business before Trump administration. "A shell company that Michael D. Cohen used to pay hush money to a pornographic film actress received payments totaling more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations with business before the Trump administration, according to documents and interviews…Among the previously unreported transactions were payments last year of about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, an investment firm in New York whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch…Other transactions described in the financial records include hundreds of thousands of dollars Mr. Cohen received from Fortune 500 companies with business before the Trump administration…" (New York Times)
  • Top aides to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are slow walking public records requests targeting their boss. "Top aides to Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency are screening public records requests related to the embattled administrator, slowing the flow of information released under the Freedom of Information Act — at times beyond what the law allows. Internal emails obtained by POLITICO show that Pruitt’s political appointees reviewed documents collected for most or all FOIA requests regarding his activities, even as he’s drawn scrutiny for his use of first-class flights and undisclosed dealings with lobbyists." (POLITICO)
  • Last week, Trump's conflicts spanned a map from the White House all the way to Vietnam. Lynn Walsh shared her weekly roundup of Trump administration conflicts, including "a look at how a call to Vietnam from President-elect Donald Trump originated, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau tells the banking industry to lobby lawmakers and thousands are preparing to protest if President Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller or Rod Rosenstein." (Sunlight Foundation)

washington watch 

The revolving door. Image via The Atlantic.
  • Facebook rolls out new rules for buyers of issue ads. "Facebook will require the buyers of ads on issues like race, immigration and guns to verify their identity and location and who is paying for them — the latest effort by the social networking giant to combat Russian methods of election interference…Facebook in October 2017 announced it would require more documentation from advertisers seeking to run federal election ads. The new policy extends that requirement to issue ads, including those related to abortion, crime, the environment, foreign policy, guns, immigration, the military, taxes and terrorism." (POLITICO)
  • Despite requirement, few departing members of Congress file disclosures around their negotiations for future employment. "On the cusp of a potentially historic wave of congressional retirements, few public records offer clues about which lawmakers have entered negotiations for lobbying and other private-sector gigs…Despite a protocol for transparency in place since 2007, only nine House members and eight senators have filed these notices of employment negotiations. That’s minuscule compared with the legions of lawmakers who have decamped from Capitol Hill to K Street over that decade." (Roll Call) Our take? These disclosures can help identify potential conflicts of interest for members who have announced their departures — and potentially accepted new jobs representing organizations with business before Congress — but not yet finished their terms in office. They should be taken more seriously. 
  • The House takes a first step towards reviving the long-dead Office of Technology Assessment. "House appropriators are considering a revival of the Office of Technology Assessment to give nonpartisan scientific and technical advice to members of Congress. The push is starting small. Report language in the bill that funds the legislative branch, which passed committee on May 8, called for the Congressional Research Service to study the resources available to members of Congress on scientific and technology policy." (Federal Computer Week)
  • Long-shot bid to reverse net neutrality rollbacks likely to be sparked in the Senate this week. "It’s been six months since FCC chairman Ajit Pai officially began the rollback of the Title II net neutrality order — and progress has been slow. The new rules finally entered the federal register in February, and they’re already facing a number of legal challenges. While some net neutrality advocates dig in for a prolonged court battle, there’s a separate front opening up in Congress that could prove far more effective. On May 9th, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) will introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution to roll back Pai’s order completely. It’s a long shot, but if it works, it would be faster and more effective than any court ruling, completely restoring Wheeler’s 2015 order." (The Verge)

around the world

Bobomurod Abdulloev, Uzbek journalist. Photo by Radio Ozodlik. Via Global Voices.
  • As it moves to open up, Uzbekistan releases detained journalists. "Once known as one of the world’s most despotic regimes, Uzbekistan continues to move closer to a free society since new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in September 2016. On May 7, 2018, the former Soviet Central Asian republic freed two journalists, Bobomurod Abdulloev and Hayot Nasriddinov, who were detained in September and October 2017 for 'anti-constitutional activities'. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed this move by the Uzbek authorities and declared that for the first time in last two decades there are no journalists left behind bars in Uzbekistan." (Global Voices)
  • Police in Novia Scotia, Canada drop charges against a 19 year old who downloaded public information. "Halifax Regional Police say they won't be charging a 19-year-old man arrested last month for downloading files from Nova Scotia's freedom-of-information portal. Spokesperson Neera Ritcey said in an email Monday that after a thorough investigation, police determined there were no grounds to lay a charge of unauthorized use of a computer against the teen. That charge carries a possible 10-year prison sentence." (CBC h/t to TechDirt)
  • In wake of peaceful protests, opposition leader is named prime minister of Armenia. "Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan was elected Armenian prime minister by the country’s parliament on Tuesday, following weeks of mass protests against his predecessor…Former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan was forced to resign in April in response to a series of protests triggered by his appointment as prime minister, after he had already served as president for a decade. Pashinyan said he would hold a snap election as soon as he believes the conditions are right for a vote to take place. He also promised to end corruption and election-rigging." (POLITICO)
  • Listen Up: audio from a discussion on defending democracy across the globe featuring Sunlight, Open the Government, and more. "What can democracy advocates in the US and around the world do when their national governments flout international commitments and take steps toward democratic erosion and authoritarian practice?" We discussed that question with our friends at Open the Government, the OpenGov Hub, and FracTracker recently. You can listen to the audio via Open the Government on SoundCloud


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