Today in OpenGov: The secrets we keep


In today's edition, the Justice Department remains tight lipped about its new Religious Liberty Task Force, we celebrate Salinas, California's new open data portal, President Trump's New York hotel enjoys a revenue spike, Angola takes a step towards press freedom, and more. 

washington watch

The Justice Department Headquarters in Washington, DC. 
  • The Justice Department announced a high profile Religious Liberty Task Force last week, but won't answer basic questions about it. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a spectacle of announcing his Religious Liberty Task Force last Monday…Hosting a Religious Liberty Summit inside the Department of Justice headquarters, Sessions had surrounded himself largely with players from the religious right, including anti-LGBT, anti-abortion organizations, which led to widespread condemnation from civil rights groups. Despite the fanfare, however, Justice Department officials haven’t provided basic information about Sessions’ new task force or what it will actually do. Who will be on it? When will it meet? Is there an agenda for its meeting? Will its proceedings be open to the public?" None of those questions have been answered by DoJ. (BuzzFeed)
  • The FCC admits that a "cyberattack" which allegedly took down its comment system last year didn't actually happen. "The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday said that a cyberattack on its comment system that it claimed had taken place last year never actually happened…The supposed cyberattack had become a protracted issue over the last year for the agency. Its public comment filing system crashed after HBO late night TV host John Oliver encouraged his viewers to flood the site with pro-net neutrality comments in May. At the time, observers thought this was because of the volume of comments rushing in from viewers of Oliver’s show, “Last Week Tonight,” but the FCC attributed it to a cyberattack." (The Hill)
  • Citizens turned to the Office of Congressional ethics in record numbers last quarter. "The Office of Congressional Ethics saw a considerable uptick in citizen outreach in the second quarter of 2018. At the same time, three referrals were sent to the House Ethics Committee for action. Over 8,300 private citizens contacted the Office of Congressional Ethics during the second quarter, up from 580 in the first quarter of 2018, according to the OCE’s most recent quarterly report. In the last year, citizen contacts had previously topped out at 1,450 per quarter. The contacts fall into two categories: Allegations of misconduct and requests for information about the OCE." (Roll Call)
  • Tech firms look to get a leg up by helping craft looming privacy regulations. "U.S. tech companies, battered over their handling of consumers’ personal data, are hoping to get ahead of the public and legal fallout by working with policy makers to help shape potential new federal privacy legislation." (Wall Street Journal)

states and cities

  • Celebrating Salinas, California's new open data portal. Salinas launched their new open data portal last week. We were glad to see the launch and enjoyed being able to help them with their open data policy. 
  • West Virginia residents who are serving in the military overseas will be able to cast ballots via smartphone in this years midterm elections. "West Virginians serving overseas will be the first in the country to cast federal election ballots using a smartphone app, a move designed to make voting in November's election easier for troops living abroad. But election integrity and computer security experts expressed alarm at the prospect of voting by phone, and one went so far as to call it 'a horrific idea.'" (CNN)
  • A leading candidate for Governor of Minnesota reportedly pressured her government employees to work on her campaigns. "Lori Swanson, Minnesota's three-term attorney general and current candidate for governor, has presided over an office culture in which professional success is linked to the willingness of employees to participate in Swanson’s campaign work, eight former and current employees of the attorney general’s office told The Intercept." (The Intercept


The Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City. Image via Pixabay.
  • Revenue was up at President Trump's flagship Manhattan hotel in the first quarter thanks to a surprise visit by the Saudi crown prince. "The general manager of the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan had a rare bit of good news to report to investors this spring: After two years of decline, revenue from room rentals went up 13 percent in the first three months of 2018. What caused the uptick at President Trump’s flagship hotel in New York? One major factor: 'a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,' wrote general manager Prince A. Sanders in a May 15 letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post." (Washington Post)
  • A few of President Trump's closest political allies are supporting the legal defense fund set up for White House aides. "A legal defense fund created for the benefit of White House aides has largely relied on contributions from a handful of President Donald Trump's longtime friends and political allies in the first five months of its existence. Phillip Ruffin, a billionaire casino mogul who has worked with Trump and accompanied him to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, contributed $50,000 in April, the documents show. Continental Resources, an oil shale company whose CEO, Harold Hamm, has advised Trump on policy, kicked in $25,000 in May." (POLITICO)
  • New York State is suing the Trump administration for access to information about a labor-law rollback. "New York is suing the Trump administration to get information about a new program the state says may let employers go unpunished by the federal government for violating labor laws. The U.S. Labor Department should be ordered to turn over information about the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) Program, New York said in a complaint filed Monday in federal court in Manhattan. The program allegedly hinders states whose labor regulations are more stringent than federal law, particularly concerning allegations of wage theft." (Bloomberg)

around the world

Rafael Marques de Morais via Global Voices.
  • Angolan journalist acquitted on charges of insulting the state in what may be landmark ruling. "A court in Luanda has acquitted journalist Rafael Marques and editor Mariano Brás of charges of insulting the Angolan state in what many considered a milestone for the country's press freedom…At the latest hearing on July 6, judge Josina Falcão, who was presiding the case at Luanda Provincial Court, stated that the journalists merely 'fulfilled their duty to inform' and dismissed all the accusations against both men." (Global Voices)
  • Did the leader of this Spanish party get a masters degree as part of a "bribe"? "A court in Madrid on Monday asked the Spanish Supreme Court to look into whether conservative leader Pablo Casado received his master’s degree as a form of 'bribery.' The lower court said there were 'indications' that Casado, who became leader of the Popular Party last month, received the degree as 'a gift' for his 'special political relevance' during the 2008-2009 academic year at King Juan Carlos University in what could constitute a form of bribery, according to Spanish news agency Europa Press." (POLITICO)
  • Website updates aim to expand access to information about the International Criminal Court. "Today, we continue to support the ICC’s mission and the broader effort to ensure accountability for grave crimes—including through the Open Society Justice Initiative’s commitment to our International Justice Monitor website—which is dedicated to making the day-to-day proceedings of the court understandable to as wide an audience as possible. This month we are delighted to announce that the site has been redesigned to make it more accessible and more usable, with a range of new features." (Open Society Foundations)


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