Today in OpenGov: The mystery of the missing fortune


In today's edition, real disclosure for virtual money, a dangerous wave of anti-protest bills, tracking Wilbur Ross' fortune, judicial reform moves forward in Romania, and more. 

washington watch

Cryptocurrency. Image via Pixabay.
  • Office of Government Ethics issues new guidance around reporting virtual money on financial disclosures. "Virtual money is real enough that federal employees must report it on their financial disclosure statements and is covered by conflict of interest laws, the government’s central ethics agency said Monday…While virtual currency does not have the status of legal tender, the Internal Revenue Service considers it “property” for federal tax purposes and other federal agencies recognize it as an investment vehicle, the guidance said, making it subject to financial disclosure and conflict of interest laws applying to assets such as stocks and bonds." (Washington Post)
  • Supreme Court punts on partisan gerrymandering questions. "After a year of arguments over whether the Supreme Court believes partisan gerrymandering claims can be resolved by courts, the justices largely punted on Monday — leaving major questions unresolved." The Court's decisions in partisan gerrymandering cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland did not address the deeper constitutional status of partisan gerrymandering. (BuzzFeed
  • Judge asked to throw out lawsuit against Representative for blocking constituents on Facebook. "The House general counsel is asking a federal judge in Arizona to throw out a lawsuit seeking to bar Rep. Paul Gosar from blocking constituents on Facebook. Thomas Hungar said the two plaintiffs, who sued Gosar after he blocked them on the social media platform, do not have standing to sue the representative because they are not blocked from his page anymore, according to local media reports." (Roll Call
  • There's a fight brewing over product labeling legislation in Congress. "A new bill in Congress is raising the hackles of consumer advocates who say it’ll give Americans less information about the ingredients in products they buy. Dubbed the Accurate Labels Act, the bill backed by groups that represent companies such as Kellogg Co. and Dow Chemical Co. seeks to establish federal standards for labeling. While industry representatives who support the measure argue it will simplify ingredient lists, health and environmental groups say it’s a dangerous effort to defang state laws that inform and protect shoppers." (Bloomberg) We believe that consumers — as well as markets — benefit from transparency and access to information and are skeptical of efforts that appear aimed at limiting existing sources of public information. 

states and cities

  • A spate of anti-protest bills is threatening social justice infrastructure. Eliza Newlin Carney explores "an insidious new twist in the anti-protest drive that progressive organizers say threatens not just individuals but social justice movements as a whole. Shut out of Congress, the White House, and the majority of state legislatures, progressives have taken to the streets—only to face a conservative backlash even there. In 2018, the state assault on protests broadened its sweep to target institutions at odds with the right, most notably environmental groups. The most popular form this institutional suppression has taken is bills that purport to protect “critical infrastructure,” but could effectively defund such high-profile environmental agitators as Greenpeace." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Oregon Government Ethics Commission considers withholding, destroying certain records. "The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is supposed to be the watchdog for how public officials behave. They slapped big fines on former Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, for breaching rules separating public service and private business. Ethics commissioners also review many lower-profile complaints involving teachers and bureaucrats — all with an eye toward protecting taxpayer resources. But in the wake of one recent case, ethics commissioners debated withholding and even destroying public records." (OPB)
  • These graduate students are helping cities do more with data by building spatial analysis tools. "Ben Levine sat down with Professor [Ken] Steif [and students in] the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Urban Spatial Analytics (MUSA) Practicum [to explore] how the graduate students in the program work with city officials to develop data science tools that their clients can use to determine how best to use their resources." (Government Technology)


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Image via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • The Mystery of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' Missing Fortune. "Amid President Trump’s headaches confirming cabinet secretaries, from neophyte Rex Tillerson to conflict-prone Scott Pruitt to unprepared Betsy DeVos, all of whom squeezed through, Wilbur Ross was a tonic. With his blue power suit and decades of dealmaking, he had the look and the résumé of a commerce secretary. And unlike his boss, Ross promised to divest from almost all his holdings upon entering government, drawing bipartisan praise en route to an easy confirmation…In November 2017, Ross confirmed in writing to the federal Office of Government Ethics that he had divested everything he promised. But that was not true." Dan Alexander has the details. (Forbes
  • How Ryan Zinke's foundation is working with Halliburton's chairman on a big real estate deal. "A foundation established by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and headed by his wife is playing a key role in a real-estate deal backed by the chairman of Halliburton, the oil-services giant that stands to benefit from any of the Interior Department’s decisions to open public lands for oil exploration or change standards for drilling." (POLITICO)
  • In break from precedent, a political appointee at the EPA will choose which pollution cases are forward to the Justice Department for enforcement. "A political appointee at the Environmental Protection Agency will review which pollution violations are referred to the Justice Department for possible civil enforcement, a move some former officials describe as providing President Trump's appointees the opportunity to stifle enforcement of anti-pollution laws." (Washington Post)

around the world

Image via Pixabay.
  • Romania moves forward with part of a controversial judicial reform bill. "Romania’s parliament approved part of a controversial judicial-reform package that’s been criticized as another attempt by the ruling coalition to weaken punishment for convicted officials…Social Democrat lawmaker Florin Iordache told parliament that the changes are necessary to avoid officials being unfairly targeted." (Bloomberg)
  • New research finds evidence of a malicious digital campaign against human rights activists in Pakistan. "Cybersecurity researchers have found that commercially available spy software has been used to infiltrate the activist communities in Pakistan. A May 2018 report by Amnesty International describes how rogue accounts engage with activists and trick them into downloading malicious software that can spy on them through their phones and computers. Lookout, a cybersecurity firm, also published similar findings that month." (Global Voices)
  • European democracy watchdog asks Hungary to stop legislation targeting NGOs. "The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe asked Hungary’s government on Monday not to adopt legislation designed to curtail the activities of NGOs deemed to be supporting illegal immigration." (Bloomberg)


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