Today in OpenGov: Leveling up

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In today's edition, the CFPB asks for public feedback on its consumer complaint process, the White House and the EPA team up to block an important report on water contamination, California's approach to data transparency, calls for a crackdown on money laundering in the EU, and more. And don't forget, take a minute this week for our short survey on how we can make this newsletter work better for you. 

washington watch

You can learn more about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's consumer complaints data here. 
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is asking for public feedback on its consumer complaints processes. As we've argued before, the CFPB's consumer complaints database is an outstanding model of empowering transparency. Unfortunately, acting director Mick Mulvaney isn't such a big fan and wants to take it down. We urge you to check out the CFPB's Request For Information and consider voicing your support of continued public access to consumer complaint data. 
  • Federal appeals court decision could boost campaign finance transparency. Carrie Levine explains that "the Federal Election Commission could begin demanding more information about the vendors and consultants political committees pay, thanks to a federal appeals court decision Friday. The impact of the decision — which could have implications for how precisely political committees such as President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee have to detail their spending — will rest on how the FEC chooses to apply it, several campaign finance experts said." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Women are donating to federal political campaigns in record numbers this year. "An unprecedented rise in female donors to political campaigns, fueled largely by opposition to President Donald Trump, continues to grow in the run-up to the 2018 elections. The number of women donating to federal candidates has surged by 182 percent when compared with this time in the 2016 cycle, according to new data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Much of the activity has been among Democratic donors, a trend that first began to appear after the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration." (Roll Call)
  • Senate set to vote on net neutrality repeal rollback this week. "The US Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday, May 16 on whether to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules. Republican senators were hoping to avoid the vote, but Democrats are using a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to force the full Senate to vote. The CRA resolution would nullify the FCC's December 2017 vote to deregulate broadband and kill net neutrality rules and would prevent the FCC from taking similar actions in the future." There is a slight chance that the resolution could make it through the Senate, but it faces significantly longer odds in the House. (Ars Technica)

trumpland

The White House at night. 
  • White House, EPA worked together to block release of an HHS study on water-contamination crisis over public relations concerns. "Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the White House sought to block publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis, after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a 'public relations nightmare,' newly disclosed emails reveal. The intervention early this year — not previously disclosed — came as HHS' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was preparing to publish its assessment of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia." (POLITICO)
  • Federal politicians — including President Trump — have to file their financial disclosures by today. Trump's disclosures will be particularly intriguing since, "under the Ethics in Government Act, he has to disclose all liabilities that exceeded $10,000 at any time during calendar year 2017, even if he repaid them later that year. That includes his debt to Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment Cohen made in October 2016 to adult film star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford). The question is whether Trump will disclose that debt, as well as any others he might have omitted." (USA Today)
  • Coal and nuclear industry players are lobbying allies in the Trump administration for a boost. "Aging coal and nuclear power generators, facing increasingly stiff competition from natural gas and renewable energy, are calling on allies in the Trump administration to invoke the emergency powers to prop up their plants.  But critics throughout much of the rest of the energy sector say saving these plants is not actually a national security imperative — and their pending closure is simply a consequence of good old marketplace competition." (Washington Post)
  • The Trump Organization is working on a project in Indonesia with ties to the Chinese government. "A billion-dollar Indonesian property development with ties to Donald Trump has become the latest project in China’s globe-spanning Belt and Road infrastructure project – just as Washington and Beijing are tussling over trade. A subsidiary of Chinese state-owned construction firm Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) signed a deal with Indonesia’s MNC Land to build a theme park outside Jakarta as part of the ambitious project, the company said on Thursday. The deal is the latest to raise questions about the extent of Trump’s financial exposure to Beijing." (South China Morning Post, h/t to Andrew Beatty and AFP)
  • Senate Intelligence Committee restricts access to information on Gina Haspel's role in torture programs ahead of vote to confirm her as head of CIA. "As the Senate prepares for a Wednesday vote on whether to confirm Gina Haspel as director of the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee has restricted access to a classified memo that Democratic staff put together, detailing Haspel’s role in advocating for torture and later destroying related evidence. On Monday morning, Elizabeth Falcone, a senior aide for Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top-ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, announced the decision to restrict access in an email to Democratic legislative directors. The memo had previously been available for senators and staff with security clearances to review in a Secure Compartmented Information Facility housed within Congress. Staff will no longer be able to review the document, and senators will only be able to do so upon request. It has been removed from the SCIF." (The Intercept) Our take? Senators and their key staff need more, not less, access to relevant information ahead of this important vote. 

states and cities

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. 
  • This New York county wants to upgrade its technology and make its legislative information more transparent. "How did your legislator vote on a proposal to reduce the size of the Albany County Legislature? What legislation has been proposed to address the use of foam-based products? County lawmakers want to put this information at residents’ fingertips by updating its technology to allow the public to easily search for bills and voting records of legislators online. (Government Technology)
  • How data transparency is driving innovation in California. Jonathan Ende argues, "with all of its various agencies, entities, and departments, the average government has access to a truly impressive amount of data on its own performance. Such a massive amount of data holds significant potential for driving innovation in the public sector. To unlock this potential, governments are increasingly embracing open data policies to better analyze and utilize their data. California is on the leading edge of the open data frontier and is leveraging data transparency to drive innovation at a local and statewide level." (Techwire)
  • Prosecutors abruptly drop invasion-of-privacy case against Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, charges likely to be refiled. "Prosecutors on Monday dropped their case against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) for felony invasion of privacy just as jury selection had gotten underway in the trial.  Multiple news outlets reported that the move came after Greitens’s legal team indicated they would call St. Louis circuit attorney Kim Gardner — who announced the charges against the governor — as a witness." Gardner's office is expected to ask for the appointment of a special prosecutor, who would likely refile the case. (The Hill)

around the world

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Image credit: EPP
  • Open Society Foundations pulling out of Hungary amid increasing security concerns and official pressure. "Open Society Foundations is closing its operations in Hungary and moving staff to Berlin, citing an increasingly repressive political and legal environment and security concerns. While the foundation, which acts primarily as a grant-making body, has vowed to continue supporting civil society in Hungary, it is unclear to what extent it will be able to back local groups in the future. Budapest is preparing to pass laws next month that would in effect make it impossible for the foundation and many other civil society organizations to continue operating in Hungary." (POLITICO)
  • Former president of Taiwan found guilty in 2013 leak case. "Ex-Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was sentenced to four months in jail for leaking details of a criminal investigation while still in office, although the former Kuomintang leader could still avoid jail time by paying a fine or winning on appeal. Taiwan’s High Court on Tuesday found Ma, 67, guilty of violating the Communication Security and Surveillance Act, according to Lin Ruey-bin, high court division chief judge. Ma had been found not guilty of the charges by a Taipei district court last year, a verdict prosecutors appealed. Ma said he would appeal Tuesday’s decision in a statement released by his office after the verdict." (Bloomberg)
  • European Commission calls to empower watchdogs in money-laundering cases. "EU watchdogs should get greater clarity on the powers to strip lenders of their banking licenses if they are found to be in breach of money-laundering rules, the European Commission said. The EU’s executive arm made the call in a letter — obtained by POLITICO — to the bloc’s three watchdogs and the European Central Bank signed by Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, his Dutch peer Frans Timmermans and Justice Commissioner VÄ›ra Jourová." (POLITICO)

 

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