Today in OpenGov: Gearing up for a fight


In today's edition, President Trump picks a Supreme Court nominee, Mar-a-Lago members get an Air Force One tour, House Republicans have some data collection questions for Apple and Google, we share interactive tools for community data needs, EU legislators' have cushy outside jobs, and more. 

Meet the supremes

Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's pick for a seat on the Supreme Court. Via WHEC.
Last night, President Trump announced Brett M. Kavanaugh as his nominee to fill the seat on the Supreme Court recently vacated by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. As we have highlighted previously, the confirmation process is expected to spark an expensive partisan battle:
  • Even before President Trump made his pick public groups on both sides of the political divide were preparing for war. Now that Kavanaugh is the nominee those plans are being put into motion. "Washington has seen its fair share of brutal Supreme Court confirmation fights; the days of bipartisan confirmations of the sort experienced by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — whose nomination was approved by a 96-to-3 vote — are long gone. But at a time when the United States is polarized as never before, and the ideological balance of the court is on the line, advocates and allies of both parties are expecting an even more intense and expensive battle." (New York Times)
  • The Judicial Crisis Network is already targeting potential swing votes in the Senate with a $1.4 million campaign. (The Hill)
  • President Trump immediately asked business groups to support his nominee. "The White House on Monday immediately played up Brett Kavanaugh’s pro-business, anti-regulation record and is asking industry trade groups for help pushing his confirmation through the Senate…With Republicans holding only a sliver of a majority in the Senate, deep-pocketed business groups could have enough influence, especially in an election year, to help swing votes in Kavanaugh’s favor. In early July, the White House asked industry leaders in Washington for input and several groups — including the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Home Builders — declared a preference for Kavanaugh." (POLITICO)
Even more important than the short term effect on political spending is the long lasting impact Kavanaugh will have on American law. Of course, we're particularly interested in where his vote might fall on cases involving campaign finance, privacy, access to information, and other open government priorities. We hope that those positions will receive thorough vetting by the Senate and the public. 
  • Kavanaugh has been reliably conservative on tech policy, including votes against net neutrality and for NSA surveillance. "Kavanaugh, who was nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit by George W. Bush, where he currently serves, certainly has a notable, if likely controversial, record on tech policy issues. While it’s difficult to anticipate exactly which issues might come before the court, his past rulings suggest a reliably conservative voice on tech. His addition to the highest court in the country could vastly reshape the digital landscape. Perhaps most concerning for supporters of net neutrality, Kavanaugh issued an important dissent as part of a hearing on the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality order, which put in place consumer protections for internet users." (The Verge)
  • His positions on campaign finance have not been as clear cut, but point towards a deregulatory stance. Over at Election Law Blog, Rick Hasen has considered Kavanaugh's writings and concluded that "Judge Kavanaugh is no moderate. I discuss his views of textualism in my book on Justice Scalia’s legacy…Having…studied J. Kavanaugh’s writings in this and related areas, to me the only question is whether he’d be more like Justice Scalia (voting to strike down more and more campaign limits) or like Justice Thomas (voting to do that AND strike down campaign finance disclosure laws)." 

elsewhere in trumpland

Air Force One. Image via Pixabay.
  • Did some Mar-a-Lago members get a tour of Air Force One? "Some members of President Donald Trump's exclusive Florida clubs appear to have been invited to an Air Force One tour last year, according to an invitation obtained by BuzzFeed News, which was cross-checked with records received through a Freedom of Information Act request. Members would not confirm or deny that they actually attended, but the invitations would raise more questions about the blurry line between Trump's administration and his family’s private businesses. Although past administrations have given Air Force One tours to friends, family, and even donors, in this case, those attending would have paid Trump’s exclusive clubs thousands of dollars annually." (BuzzFeed)
  • In response to FOIA, DHS says that they can't find memos related to President Trump's border wall. At least some of them were posted publicly online. "In late February 2017, the Trump Administration took some of its earliest steps towards implementing a new border wall policy with an executive order and several memos issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s leadership. In response to the policy, MuckRock filed a FOIA request for 'memos relating to executive orders signed by Donald Trump,' including but not limited to memos described in a specific article. Just under 17 months later, DHS responded with a letter saying that they were unable to find any such memos. Despite these claims, two of the memos which DHS said they were unable to find had already been posted to their website." (MuckRock)
  • The banking industry is making big changes in Washington in an effort to rejuvenate their image and gain influence in Trump's Washington. "The nation's biggest banks, struggling to win over policymakers even in the business-friendly Trump era, are poised for a major makeover of their Washington lobbying efforts. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are among the megabanks seeking to rejuvenate their image — still tarred by the financial crisis and a series of scandals — by rebranding and expanding their trade groups. Their efforts to assert themselves have sometimes been jarring." (POLITICO)

washington watch

  • House Republicans are pushing Apple and Google for more information on their data collection practices. "Lawmakers are pressing tech giants Apple and Google for more information on their data collection practices, wondering whether their smartphones collect location or audio data on unsuspecting consumers.  Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to executives at both companies on Monday for more information about the data collection capabilities of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, raising potential privacy concerns." (The Hill)
  • Building more inclusive government forms. Luke Fretwell discusses a chapter in Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s book, 'Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech,' which, as he explains "emphasizes the importance in being mindful of the fields included on forms, as many are either unnecessary or not inclusive, providing only binary options in a non-binary world. Fields like race, ethnicity, salutation and gender are potential points of alienation for those who may not have an option that suits their identity. If we are to include these fields on government forms, they should either be optional or fully inclusive, accounting for identities anyone can associate with." (GovFresh)
  • This new lobbying firm is trying to build compromise between groups who are far apart on the political spectrum. "An unlikely cast of lobbyists, odd bedfellows even by K Street’s typically bipartisan approach, has spent the past year nurturing a fledgling firm aimed at building coalitions between dyed-in-the-wool conservatives and lefty progressives on Capitol Hill. The firm, recently christened United By Interest, is so far a commercial flop, if judged solely by the number of clients it has attracted: zero. But in an unusual twist, the lobbyists behind the effort, all of whom have their own separate K Street businesses, have managed to prod along a unique infrastructure bill with support of lawmakers from the conservative Freedom Caucus and the liberal Congressional Black Caucus." (Roll Call)
  • Twitter is moving to purge fake accounts, but will it help curb malicious influence campaigns? Derek Hawkins thinks so. He writes, "Twitter is finally taking a flamethrower to fake and suspicious accounts, following months of public criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to crack down on the bots and trolls that used the platform to spread disinformation during the 2016 election. The social media giant has suspended more than 70 million accounts since May, at a rate of more than 1 million a day…If the mass suspensions continue at this rate, they could go a long way to curb the types of automated social media offensives the Russian government carried out in 2016. Part of what made the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign so successful was its use of constantly tweeting bots to amplify divisive posts, inflame political tensions and mislead voters." (Washington Post)

states and cities

  • Check out our new tools to learn about community data needs. "If you’re a Chief Data Officer or city open data champion, new open data projects are a big commitment and it can be difficult to predict open data’s impact in your community. But putting in leg work to understand community needs before launching an open data project can help you design for your stakeholders’ specific needs and use cases for open data. That’s why Sunlight’s Open Cities team has developed these interactive tools for local government staff or data providers looking to ground-truth their open data projects in community needs." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Illinois' multi-millionaire governor turned a profit via a health care group that has ICE detention center contracts. "Gov. Bruce Rauner this year reported turning a profit from a health care group that services U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, including facilities that hold immigrant families with children. In his most recent statement of economic interests, the multi-millionaire Republican governor disclosed earnings from a private equity fund that owns Correct Care Solutions, a for-profit health care provider that has millions of dollars in government contracts with jails and prisons across the country, including immigrant detention centers." (POLITICO)
  • Federal judge allows FOI group to intervene in Iowa wrongful death case. Request to unseal police body camera footage deferred. "A federal judge in a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Burlington granted a request by an Iowa watchdog group to intervene in the case. U.S. Senior Judge James Gritzner on Friday granted the request to intervene by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, but has deferred the watchdog group’s request to unseal police body camera footage and court documents and evidence introduced in the wrongful death of Autumn Steele, 34, of Burlington. The video and documents had been filed under seal in the wrongful death lawsuit." (The Gazette)

around the world

Just a few of the MEPs who hold outside jobs. Image via POLITICO. 
  • Almost a third of European Parliament legislators have paid side jobs. "Nearly a third of legislators in the European Parliament have paid side jobs, with many earning hundreds of thousands of euros on top of their EU salary, according to a study by the NGO Transparency International. In total, MEPs declared 1,366 side activities worth up to €41 million since 2014, according to the analysis of public filings by parliamentarians." (POLITICO)
  • Uganda's social media tax will widen the digital divide for less privileged groups, particularly women. "On July 1, Uganda implemented a new daily tax on the use of social media and messaging platforms, on the grounds that — in the words of President Museveni — social media is a 'luxury good'. This tax will unquestionably widen the digital divide for all Ugandans of lesser means. But the results may be worst for women, who already face high barriers in accessing and using the internet." (Global Voices)
  • After initially refusing to do so, Romanian president complies with decree from Constitutional Court to fire top anti-corruption prosecutor. "Romanian President Klaus Iohannis signed a decree Monday to dismiss the country’s leading anti-corruption figure, Laura CodruČ›a Kövesi, in a move to comply with a ruling by the Constitutional Court…Kövesi took over as head of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) in 2013, and has garnered praise from the European Commission and other international bodies for the institution’s results in prosecuting ministers, mayors and other officials for graft. Her work made her the target of numerous attacks by Romania’s politicians, who accused her of playing political games and targeting sitting prime ministers for investigations to attract media attention…The president said through his spokesperson Monday that he was compelled to respect the rule of law and follow the decisions of the Constitutional Court. He called on the ruling coalition to do the same." (POLITICO)


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