In today's edition, we identify document deletions at the Citizenship and Immigration Service, a sanctioned Russian bank woos Washington, Connecticut looks to boost its open data offerings, Spain's Prime Minister is poised to lose power in corruption fallout, and more.
Editors note: Today in OpenGov will take a short hiatus for the next two weeks. We'll be back on June 15th. In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter to keep up with all the latest at Sunlight and in the broader #OpenGov world!
- US Citizenship and Immigration Services removed asylum officer training documents shortly after President Trump's inauguration. "The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) removed a cache of materials on its asylum process shortly after President Donald Trump took office, a reduction in access detailed in our latest Web Integrity Project report. The 26 removed documents, which collectively run to several hundred pages, constitute training materials for USCIS asylum officers, offering detailed instructions on how the agency screens immigrants under U.S. law and international asylum agreements. Immigration attorneys who spoke with the Web Integrity Project said the materials, which are still relevant under current policy, were an important training resource for them as well, offering a valuable glimpse at an often opaque process." (Sunlight Foundation)
- President Trump pardoned Dinesh D'Souza, conservative activist who pled guilty to campaign finance fraud. "In granting the fifth pardon of his presidency Thursday, President Trump showed that he's not afraid of political consequences of using his clemency power to correct what he perceives as unjust, politically motivated prosecutions. On an Air Force One flight to Houston, Trump pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza for making illegal campaign contributions — and then said he is also considering presidential clemency for others, including former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich…" (USA Today) Our take? While we respect Trump's right to exercise his pardon powers, his pardon of D'Souza and speculation about former governor Blagojevich — a Democrat who was convicted for trying to sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat — highlight the President's comfort with official corruption and hint at a dangerous precedent when it comes to his own inner circle.
- Ben Carson is set to hire a new deputy chief of staff. He just happens to be the son of a close friend and business associate. "Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson will name the son of his close friend and business associate as deputy chief of staff, the department confirmed Wednesday. Alfonso Costa Jr., 29, is expected to join the department in the coming weeks, a source familiar with the decision told CNN. The arrival comes as one of Carson's closest political aides, deputy chief of staff Deana Bass, leaves the department and shortly after a relative novice to housing policy, Andrew Hughes, was promoted to chief of staff." (CNN)
- This week in conflicts? Trademarks, China, Saudi Arabia, and more. Lynn Walsh checks in with her weekly look at Trump administration conflicts of interest. "This week, Ivanka Trump received new trademarks from China for her collection of businesses, Democratic lawmakers are asking for an ethics investigation into the president’s ties to China, and Jared Kushner’s tech company is asking for money from a Saudi-backed fund." (Sunlight Foundation)
- How a sanctioned Russian bank moved to burnish its image in Washington. Carrie Levine digs into newly released documents about "VTB, a state-owned Russian bank operating under U.S. sanctions limiting its activities since 2014…[showing] a discreet image-burnishing campaign by VTB that spanned the Obama and Trump administrations." The story highlights how ineffective the Foreign Agents Registration Act, "a law requiring detailed disclosure of foreign influence efforts," has become. "VTB provides an illuminating example of what Americans learn — or don’t — under FARA. The bank’s hired lobbyists failed to disclose a series of June 2016 meetings with government officials on behalf of the sanctioned bank until months after U.S. law required them to." (Center for Public Integrity)
- Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein raised millions for a recount. Where is all the money going? "Shortly after the 2016 election, Jill Stein raised more than $7 million from shell-shocked liberals eager to pursue a swing-state recount. Nearly two years later, the U.S. Green Party’s last candidate for president is still spending that money. Ongoing litigation, travel costs, and staff salaries are also likely to eat up whatever is left, meaning those who donated to Stein are unlikely to receive a once-promised chance to vote on how the post-recount money would be spent. Nor have donors been given much of a window into how Stein is actually spending their donations." (The Daily Beast)
- Puerto Rico's governor demands transparency on Hurricane Maria death toll. "Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on Thursday that there would be "hell to pay" if territory officials withheld key statistics about the death toll from Hurricane Maria. Rosselló's comments came two days after a Harvard University study published in the New England Journal of Medicine pegged the death toll from the hurricane and its immediate aftermath at 4,645 – far higher than the official estimate of 64." (The Hill)
- The House Ethics Committee is investigating Rep. Dave Schweikert and his chief of staff for potentially violating rules on outside earnings. "The House Ethics Committee is reviewing an Office of Congressional Ethics referral to investigate Rep. David Schweikert and Oliver Schwab, his chief of staff. Schwab has allegedly been paid by the Arizona Republican’s campaign beyond the limit for outside earned income for senior congressional staffers. The OCE reviews possible ethics violations by House members and their staff and only refers cases to the Ethics Committee when there is substantial evidence a violation may have occurred." (Roll Call)
states and cities
- The Connecticut Legislature locks in open data efforts. "During Connecticut’s recently concluded legislative session, lawmakers approved a plan to bolster the state’s commitment to data efforts. These plans were initiated by an executive order from Gov. Dannel Malloy issued four years ago, which the legislature recently codified through new legislation. This legislation establishes data requirements for the agencies in the executive branch while also empowering the state’s chief data officer to direct agencies on topics related to open data." (Government Technology)
- The symbiotic relationship between local news and city finances. "When local newspapers shut their doors, communities lose out. People and their stories can’t find coverage. Politicos take liberties when it’s nobody’s job to hold them accountable. What the public doesn’t know winds up hurting them. The city feels poorer, politically and culturally. According to a new working paper, local news deserts lose out financially, too. Cities where newspapers closed up shop saw increases in government costs as a result of the lack of scrutiny over local deals, say researchers who tracked the decline of local news outlets between 1996 and 2015." (City Lab)
- This new platform wants to make it easier to plan your trips across public transit and bike lanes. "An urban mobility–focused developer platform has a new service combining bikeshare and transit data that could help plan a route D.C. is one of two cities (the other being NYC) where Coord is releasing the first version of its Routing API this week. The “Bike N Ride” navigation combines data from bikeshare, transit and other services such as rideshare, according to a blog post by Coord’s Corinna Li. The algorithm is designed to offer the shortest way to a destination." (Technical.ly DC)
around the world
- Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy loses no-confidence vote sparked by corruption convictions. "Mariano Rajoy was defeated in a no-confidence vote in parliament Friday, paving the way for Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez to take over as Spain’s new prime minister. The motion — launched by the Socialist leader following revelations that senior officials in Rajoy’s Popular Party were involved in a major corruption scandal — passed with 180 deputies voting in favor and 169 against (one abstained). Sánchez’s supporters and allies applauded and shouted “Sí se puede!” (Yes we can!) in Congress after the vote." (POLITICO)
- The threat to public trust posed by the staged "murder" of a Russian journalist. "Arkady Babchenko, the dissident Russian journalist living in Ukraine, shocked his friends and colleagues by turning up yesterday at a press conference meant to update the investigation into his murder…His return brought unexpected relief to those who mourned him, but it has also raised concerns from those worried that the manner in which the ruse was carried out will have lasting negative implications." (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Uganda just passed a new tax on social media users. "Uganda's parliament has passed a law to impose a controversial tax on people using social media platforms. It imposes a 200 shilling [$0.05, £0.04] daily levy on people using internet messaging platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber and Twitter. President Yoweri Museveni had pushed for the changes, arguing that social media encouraged gossip." (BBC)
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