Today in OpenGov: One to talk


In today's edition, President Trump includes Stormy Daniels in his financial disclosure, tech CEOs get an open invitation to Capitol Hill, what's up with WhatsApp in India, and more. And don't forget, if you haven't already, take a minute this week for our short survey on how we can make this newsletter work better for you! 


Michael Cohen speaking with President Trump in the background. Via YouTube.


  • President Trump's financial disclosure filing includes Stormy Daniels reimbursement. But the Office of Government Ethics thinks he should have included it last year. Louis Nelson, Matthew Nussbaum, and Lorraine Woellert have the details…"The government’s top ethics officer told the Justice Department on Wednesday that President Donald Trump should have disclosed last year that he reimbursed his longtime personal attorney for a “hush money” payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The letter from David Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, came as that office also released Trump’s most recent financial disclosure form, a 92-page document that included the reimbursement to attorney Michael Cohen as a footnote." (POLITICO)
  • In commencement speech, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warns of risks to democracy over crisis of ethics and assault on facts. "Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a veiled shot at President Donald Trump on Wednesday, warning that a growing national crisis of ethics and integrity has put American democracy at risk. In remarks to graduates of the Virginia Military Institute, Tillerson lamented assaults on facts that he said would lead to a loss of freedom if not countered. And he said that only societies able to pursue the truth and challenge alternate realities can be truly free." (Bloomberg) We can't help but point out the irony. While he was Secretary of State, Tillerson did his best to ignore the free press and weaken the United State's diplomatic corps, damaging American advocacy for democracy around the world. 
  • EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in Senate testimony yesterday, said he has set up a legal defense fund… "Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told a Senate panel on Wednesday that one of his employees had worked without pay on her personal time to find him a place to live, a service that Democrats said amounted to a violation of federal law. He also confirmed that he had established a legal defense fund to defray the costs of defending himself against 12 federal investigations into his spending and management decisions." (New York Times) …but don't worry, he promises not to accept donations from lobbyists with business before the EPA. "During a contentious budget hearing Pruitt assured senators on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment that donations to the fund will be made public and that it won’t accept gifts from lobbyists with business before his agency. Pressed on whether it would accept anonymous donations, Pruitt said it would follow recommendations of the White House counsel, which, Van Hollen noted, has discouraged anonymous gifts to such funds." (Government Executive)
  • Want to know how the Trump administration dealt with the Office of Government Ethics in its early days? Now you can, thanks to a FOIA filed by the Center for Public Integrity. "Newly released government emails show how the Office of Government Ethics dealt with the Trump administration during its early weeks. The email exchanges from Jan. 20, 2017, to July 24, 2017, reveal numerous questions the president and key members of the administration faced as they navigated murky ethical waters with the Office of Government Ethics." (Center for Public Integrity)

washington watch


  • The House is considering an extra $1 billion for the Census. "House appropriators are pushing funding levels for the Census Bureau more than $1 billion over what the White House originally proposed for fiscal year 2019. As Census preps for the 2020 population count, a House bill would provide $4.8 billion for the bureau — including nearly $4.53 billion for its periodic programs, which includes decennial funding — in fiscal year 2019, made available until September 2021." (Federal Computer Week) Why does this matter? The Census is one of the most important government data programs. Concern has been growing around the upcoming decennial census for a number of reasons. A funding boost will help alleviate some concerns, although it won't solve all of the Census' problems.
  • Tech CEOs get open invitation to Washington as Congress grapples with data privacy, consumer protection issues. "The chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee has issued an open invitation to technology CEOs to testify before his panel as it grapples with questions about consumer protections and data privacy." (The Hill)
  • The Senate voted to reverse the FCC's net neutrality repeal, but the House is unlikely to follow suit. "The US Senate today voted to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules, with all members of the Democratic caucus and three Republicans voting in favor of net neutrality. The Senate approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would simply undo the FCC's December 2017 vote to deregulate the broadband industry…Democrats face much longer odds in the House, where Republicans hold a 236-193 majority. Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, but Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) broke ranks in order to support net neutrality and common carrier regulation of broadband providers." (Ars Technica)

around the world

  • How WhatsApp is helping spread fake news in India. "Ever since the news broke that a Russian troll factory used Facebook to spread misinformation during the 2016 US election, the social network has been a lightning rod for widespread concern about the problem of fake news, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories. But in many countries outside the US, the big problem isn’t what’s spreading on Facebook, but what’s being distributed via WhatsApp—the messaging software Facebook acquired in 2014 for $19 billion, which for many people in non-US countries provides a free alternative to text messaging." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Ahead of Venezuelan elections, questions over voting system integrity may drive opposition away from the polls. "As Venezuela approaches a controversial presidential election on May 20, many Venezuelans are questioning whether it is worthwhile to vote. On the one hand, not voting means their displeasure with the current government won't be registered at the ballot box. On the other, even if they did vote for an opposition candidate, they have reason to doubt it would be counted correctly. According to studies, the integrity of the Venezuelan electoral process has been compromised since 2004, when then-President Hugo Chavez — the man who ushered in an era of populist politics and centralized executive authority — survived a recall referendum." (Global Voices)
  • Mark Zuckerberg set to discuss data privacy scandal in closed-door session with European lawmakers. "Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to face a grilling from European Union lawmakers over how the data of as many as 2.7 million Europeans could have ended up in the hands of consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani on Wednesday said Zuckerberg had accepted the EU institution’s invitation to travel across the Atlantic and face lawmakers in person as soon as next week. The meeting will happen on May 22 late afternoon, and be held in private, the assembly’s press service said." (Bloomberg

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