Today in OpenGov: A healthy serving of scandal


In today's edition, the revolving door spins for Congressional staff who helped write last year's tax overhaul, states look to limit access to public records, President Trump's China dealings raise eyebrows, retweets become dangerous in Russia, and more. 

washington watch

The Federal Election Commission has consistently deadlocked on questions of how to regulate online political ads.
  • Facebooks' self-regulatory approach to online ad transparency highlights the government's failure to act. Paul Blumenthal dug into the situation, explaining that Facebook's "new policy is meant to shine light on the previously undisclosed ways that politicians and other groups aim to shift public opinion on elections and political issues. But the self-regulatory approach will occur at Facebook’s direction and without any public oversight…the new policy also highlights how the failure of elected officials and regulatory agencies to impose actual disclosure rules through the democratic process is enabling the private sector to assert its authority over the conduct of U.S. elections." Sunlight's Executive Director John Wonderlich weighed in, arguing that “the failure to regulate this space all together is a pretty abject failure…now we have private sector campaign finance regulation. That’s a pretty dystopian present.” (Huffington Post)
  • Congressional staff who helped write last year's tax overhaul are starting to move through the revolving door to K Street. "Republican aides in Congress who were instrumental in writing the sweeping tax law last year are hitting the exits to take jobs in the lobbying industry.  At least a half dozen high-profile GOP staffers have departed or are departing Capitol Hill, swapping jobs in the legislative branch for plum postings at firms like Akin Gump and Squire Patton Boggs." (The Hill)
  • A tactic tried by two super PACs to hide their donors ahead of a West Virginia primary could spread this election season. "The groups arrived on the scene with blurry names, like 'Mountain Families PAC,' but blunt intentions: to quietly use truckloads of outside money to feather their political beds ahead of the November general election. By the time their donors were revealed a few days ago, the primary felt like a distant memory. To do this, the PACs used legal tactics that were nonetheless designed to defy the spirit of current campaign finance law, campaign finance experts say." (CNN)
  • In wake of reports that he used staff as personal "gofers", Rep. Scott Garrett (R-VA) announces retirement, citing alcoholism. "Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) said Monday that he is an alcoholic and will not seek reelection in November — a decision that came amid mounting scrutiny into his handling of his congressional office. The 46-year-old Garrett was the subject of a POLITICO report on Friday citing four former aides who said that the congressman and his wife, Flanna, had used official staff to run errands and take care of their dog." (POLITICO)

states and cities

A map from the new Metro Region Explorer tool showing new housing units permitted from 2010-2016.
  • New York City launches new tool to harness and publicize regional data. "New York City’s planning department has launched a new mapping tool that harnesses population, housing and economic data and makes it available for exploring by the general public. The Metro Region Explorer offers trending data on the city’s greater metropolitan region: the five boroughs, upstate New York and Long Island, as well as parts of New Jersey and Connecticut." (Next City)
  • States are increasingly looking to limit public access to public records. Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene write, "the Holy Grail for government transparency is making it easy and simple for citizens to know what their government is doing and how it arrives at its decisions. We’ve always believed this can be achieved, in part, by providing access to public records. Of course, transparency isn’t open-ended. Every state has statutes clarifying what information must be made public and what information should be kept sealed. However, in recent years there’s been a steady chipping away at the public’s right to know." (Governing)
  • Louisiana Legislature considers a budget transparency boost. "Louisiana has re-introduced a bill to expand its website capabilities to deliver more information on government spending, a move that is increasingly gaining traction among states. HB 10, introduced earlier this week by Reps. Taylor Barras and Raymond Garofalo, seeks to not only include executive branch expenditures on the existing Louisiana Transparency and Accountability Portal (LaTrac), but also include spending information from the Louisiana judiciary, legislature and public universities, according to the bill." (Government Technology)


  • China's decision to award Ivanka Trump 7 new trademarks around the same time her father pledged to save a Chinese technology firm was probably a coincidence…"China this month awarded Ivanka Trump seven new trademarks across a broad collection of businesses, including books, housewares and cushions. At around the same time, President Trump vowed to find a way to prevent a major Chinese telecommunications company from going bust, even though the company has a history of violating American limits on doing business with countries like Iran and North Korea. Coincidence? Well, probably." (New York Times)…but, it's just another example of the conflicts, both real and hypothetical, that run rampant thanks to President Trump and his family's refusal to completely remove themselves from their business interests.  
  • Meanwhile, more than 60 Democratic members of the House called for an ethics investigation into Trump's business ties with China. "More than 60 Democratic representatives are demanding an ethics investigation into President Trump's ties to China, following the president's recent push to rescue Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) posted a letter to David Apol, acting head of the federal government's ethics office, to Twitter on Sunday, stating that the request was prompted by Trump "advocating" for ZTE just days after the Chinese government gave one of the president's business endeavors a $500 million loan." (The Hill)
  • A key official on President Trump's plan to lower prescription drug prices used to be a drug industry lobbyist, raising ethics questions. "The White House official who will shape a large part of the administration's drug price plan worked on many of the same issues as an industry lobbyist, raising questions about whether he violated President Donald Trump's ethics rules. Joe Grogan — who has sweeping authority over drug pricing, entitlement programs and other aspects of federal health policy at the Office of Management and Budget — didn't obtain a waiver from a directive Trump issued during his first week in office that imposed a two-year cooling-off period between lobbying and regulating on the same 'specific issue area.'" (POLITICO) Our take? It's hard to take Trump's directive seriously if staff aren't even bothering to obtain waivers to it before jumping from industry to the White House. 

around the world

 Protests on May 5, 2018, in Moscow. Image credit: DonSimon.
  • In Putin's Russia, anti-corruption activists are being jailed based on their retweets. "Anti-corruption activists who protested against Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president have seen their tweets, and in some cases their retweets of others’ publications, used by authorities as evidence of inciting mass disturbances." (Global Voices)
  • How is political information being produced and consumed in Sub-Saharan Africa? To answer that question, researchers at mySociety explain how they traveled "to four Sub-Saharan countries over the last two months, where we’ve spoken to 65 individuals from 45 fascinating organisations. Our aim with this research is to investigate how political information around legislatures and government is produced and consumed in Sub-Saharan Africa…Through this research we want to better understand political landscapes in the countries we work in to make sure the digital solutions we provide are actually of use. We hope the research will inform us, and others, about what does and doesn’t work when creating parliamentary monitoring and Right To Information websites and other Civic Technology solutions." (mySociety)
  • Dozens of Kenyan officials to face prosecution in corruption crackdown. "Kenya’s state prosecutor ordered dozens of civil servants to be prosecuted for alleged corruption after the country’s president warned the government will no longer tolerate unethical officials. Public Service Principal Secretary Lillian Omollo and National Youth Service Director-General Richard Ndubai are among 40 members of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration who face prosecution over funds that went missing from the National Youth Service, Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji said at a televised press briefing Monday in the capital, Nairobi." (Bloomberg)


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