Today in OpenGov: The lobbyist and the landlord


In today's edition, President Trump signs some documents, the Supreme Court boosts privacy, we look to pilot open contracting best practices, the EU braces for fake news in upcoming elections, and more. 


Donald Trump, Jr. 
  • On at least four occasions, President Trump signed tax returns for his Charity that contained incorrect information. "For years, President Trump personally signed the tax returns for his charitable foundation, scrawling his signature just below a stern warning from the IRS: Providing false information could lead to 'penalties of perjury.' But a lawsuit filed last week by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood alleges that four of the tax returns Trump signed contained incorrect statements, confirming previous reports by The Washington Post." (Washington Post)​
  • Donald Trump Jr. has become a top GOP surrogate and fundraising asset ahead of the midterms. "Republican Senate candidates in need of the Donald Trump sheen in their reelection bids are seeking out the one person who shares the president’s bloodline and initials: Donald Trump Jr. Absent a visit from the president himself, a fundraiser or event with Trump Jr. is fast becoming red-state Republican hopefuls’ favorite way to boast Trump’s support…The president’s 40-year-old son, who remains a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, is using the trips to establish a political identity independent of his father’s." (POLITICO)
  • Newly released emails show that Scott Pruitt's office discussed hiring a close friend of his lobbyist landlord… "Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, discussed hiring a friend of a lobbyist family that owned a condominium he was renting for $50 a night, newly released emails suggest. The files also show communications involving the lobbyist’s client interests that have not previously been disclosed, suggesting a closer relationship between the lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, and the agency than previously known." (New York Times)…as well as a plea for job applications from oil industry executives. "A month after starting as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt made a recruiting 'plea' to top executives at the American Petroleum Institute, a major oil and gas trade group, according to internal emails obtained by BuzzFeed News." (BuzzFeed)
  • President Trump has put his own stamp on "challenge coin" tradition, raising ethics concerns. "Since Bill Clinton occupied the White House, the commemorative medallions known as challenge coins have been stately symbols of the presidency coveted by the military, law enforcement personnel and a small circle of collectors. Then came Donald J. Trump. His presidency has yielded more — and more elaborate — coins that are shinier, flashier and even bigger, setting off a boom for coin manufacturers, counterfeiters and collectors, with one official Trump challenge coin recently fetching $1,000 on eBay." (New York Times)
  • This week in conflicts? Wilbur Ross, cash deals, Chinese contracts, and more. Lynn Walsh checked in with her weekly look at Trump administration conflicts of interesting, including "a Chinese government-owned construction company was awarded another contract for work on the Trump-branded golf club being built in Dubai, an investigation traced millions in cash payments for Trump properties made by people connected to Russia or former Soviet republics and a closer look at Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’ business ties." (Sunlight Foundation)

washington watch

  • Department of Transportation turns to for next steps on traffic safety data initiative. "The Department of Transportation is expanding its ongoing traffic safety data initiative by launching a prize competition on The challenge, called Solving for Safety, seeks new data visualization tools…that can both analyze data for unseen patterns and visualize model simulations in service of the creation of better policy." (FedScoop)
  • Bringing transparency to immigration reform. "The Trump administration’s policy to separate families seeking protection at the southern border, followed by a rollback that would instead indefinitely detain parents and their children, has made clear that the immigration system lacks crucial transparency and accountability mechanisms. Any immigration reform legislation must include remedies to take our immigration system out of the shadows. Open the Government recommends a series of legislative actions today that would provide greater transparency and accountability for opaque immigration policies." (Open The Government)
  • The Supreme Court ruled that the government needs a warrant to collect cellphone location data… "In a major statement on privacy in the digital age, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the government generally needs a warrant to collect troves of location data about the customers of cellphone companies." (New York Times) …but left some loopholes that privacy advocates want to see filled. "…the majority in Carpenter v. United States sidestepped key issues about whether police can still access location data in real time or for short periods without a warrant. These gaps will likely give rise to a flurry of new legal challenges — and are already sparking calls for Congress to step in to fix potential loopholes. Privacy advocates want lawmakers to regulate companies that sell real-time location data to law enforcement and to require that investigators get a warrant to access location data even for just a few days." (Washington Post)
  • The House of Representatives passed a bundle of anti-opioid bills. These companies stand to profit. "The House is touting passage of dozens of bills that could help combat the national opioid crisis — but a small handful of companies that have spent millions lobbying Congress could reap a windfall if any of the bills become law. In a two-week legislative blitz, the House cleared several narrowly tailored measures that would spur sales for companies that have ramped up their influence game in Washington, according to a review of the more than five dozen bills up for votes." (POLITICO)

states and cities

  • Putting open contracting best practices into action through a new pilot program. "The Sunlight Foundation’s Open Cities team and the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) are excited to announce are excited to announce the launch of a new pilot program to bring U.S. cities into the international conversation around open contracting best practices. As part of this pilot, we will select one city and work with them to improve their procurement practices and join a growing global community in this field of government innovation. We’ll help the selected city identify and define a clear need for data use, using Sunlight’s Tactical Data Engagement framework. Sunlight and the OCP team will research community information needs and identify how the city can support the most impactful use cases for open contracting data. The process will use open contracting best practices, including OCP’s Open Contracting Data Standard, to design an intervention that will facilitate the use of open contracting data toward local community goals." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens subject of scathing letter from legislative committee formerly in charge of investigating his nonprofit. "The chairman of the Missouri House committee that investigated former Gov. Eric Greitens sent out a scathing letter Monday calling Greitens’ dark-money group a 'criminal enterprise' and saying that if Greitens had not resigned, the committee would have had the evidence to approve articles of impeachment. Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said in a letter to his fellow committee members that the panel possessed evidence that Greitens committed 'multiple acts constituting crimes, misconduct, and acts of moral turpitude warranting the filing of articles of impeachment.'" (Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, H/T Election Law Blog)
  • Delaware, where companies outnumber citizens, backs federal bill aimed at limiting shell-companies. "Anonymous companies won’t be able to call Delaware home if Congress passes legal changes the state now backs. Companies are incorporated at the state level, but federal lawmakers are searching for a way to oversee the process. They have tried for a decade to pass a bill that would require companies to identify their owners at the time they are formed, but certain states, including Delaware, have balked." (Wall Street Journal)

around the world

  • Facebook promises that it is prepared to fight fake news in EU elections. "Facebook is well prepared to resist any disinformation campaigns surrounding the European Parliament election in May 2019, Joel Kaplan, the company’s vice president for global public policy, told a parliamentary hearing in Brussels on Monday. Despite the multilingual and fragmented nature of the election, Kaplan insisted Facebook’s tools to handle electoral interference are more sophisticated than they were in the 2016 U.S. elections and aren’t fixed to deal with a single language or culture." (POLITICO)
  • A range of tools are needed in the fight against online disinformation. "Our democratic systems are dependent on the input of citizens, but when disinformation is also an input the outputs of our processes can be deeply flawed. Disinformation and the systemic distrust it fuels has been a dangerous ingredient in the global surge of nativism, intolerance, and polarization undermining democracy and human rights around the world. Understanding and stopping disinformation is a tremendous challenge; any single solution will be incomplete so many will be required. In 2018, the fastest, most virulent and dangerous disinformation is spreading on digital platforms, and as such technical understanding is critical to wrap our heads around the problem." (NDI DemocracyWorks Blog)
  • Protests in Poland delay passage of a bill that could restrict academic freedom. "Student protests in Poland have succeeded in delaying a bill that opponents say could threaten the autonomy of universities. Known as Bill 2.0, the act includes proposals to reduce funding and research opportunities for regional universities, and aims to diminish the control held by the University Senate — a body of students, academics and other university employees who organise the day-to-day running of the institution– in favor of a University Council, consisting of individuals from outside universities." (Global Voices)


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