Today in OpenGov: No, good sir, I’m on the level!


In today's edition, Wilbur Ross has a monorail he'd like to sell you, rooting out the causes of disfunction on Capitol Hill, mapping the world's electoral boundaries, and more. 


Mar-a-Lago, winter White House and headquarters of the Department of Veterans Affairs?
  • A trio of Mar-a-Lago members appears to be quietly running the VA. "Last February, shortly after Peter O’Rourke became chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he received an email from Bruce Moskowitz with his input on a new mental health initiative for the VA. 'Received,' O’Rourke replied. 'I will begin a project plan and develop a timeline for action.' O’Rourke treated the email as an order, but Moskowitz is not his boss. In fact, he is not even a government official. Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service 'concierge' medical care. More to the point, he is one-third of an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump’s. The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman. None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government." (ProPublica)
  • Did Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross grift $120 million? "Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history." (Forbes)
  • Two former Trump campaign aides set up a foreign lobbying firm to work for Bosnia's pro-Russia separatist party. "Representatives of a Russian-backed Serbian separatist party in Bosnia, whose leader has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department, have been courting Trump administration officials and allies and recently signed up two former Trump campaign officials to help them connect with Republican lawmakers. Former Trump campaign aides Jason Osborne and Mike Rubino have registered with the Justice Department to lobby for the political party of Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska, the Serbian enclave in Bosnia." (Mother Jones)
  • House Democrats request more information after a Sunlight report on the removal of ACA information from Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter to leadership at HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking for more information on the takedowns. Get all the details via Sunlight's Web Integrity Project.

washington watch

Image via POGO.
  • A Special prosecutor will look into allegations that aides to a Virginia Congressman forged signatures to help an independent candidate. "A special prosecutor was appointed Tuesday to investigate allegations that aides to Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Va., forged signatures on petitions to help get an independent candidate on the ballot, in an effort to boost Taylor’s chances over his Democratic challenger in the midterm election. Four Taylor campaign staffers helped gather signatures for former Democratic candidate Shaun Brown to get on the November ballot for Virginia’s 2nd congressional district. Elaine Luria is the Democratic nominee, but the Taylor campaign could benefit from Brown being on the ballot as an independent, potentially drawing votes away from Luria." (Roll Call)
  • What's causing disfunction in Congress? Loose rules on political spending and heavily gerrymandered maps, among other issues. David Hawkings reflects that "thirty years covering Congress leave me totally convinced the institution is more badly broken today than at any other point in my career, which means getting asked time and again to enumerate the causes for the deepening dysfunction. Proposing how to cure the place of its metastasizing polarization and partisanship is up to the politicians who work there. But decoding what ails Capitol Hill is the central work of today’s congressional correspondent. And after plumbing the topic with hundreds of people in recent years — senators and House members, staffers and think tankers, lobbyists and advocates — I have reduced what’s a pretty complex diagnosis to five elements. And they can be readily remembered, using this alliterative mnemonic:  Money, maps, media, mingling and masochism." (Roll Call)
  • Crowdsourcing a solution to Washington's improper payments problem. "The government spends a lot of money on erroneous benefits payments, but the MITRE Corp. thinks it can crowdsource solutions to this costly problem. The company launched a challenge Monday aimed at strengthening the “eligibility verification” protocol that individuals applying for benefits must go through. It’s a partnership with a whole host of federal agencies, including the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Labor and more." (FedScoop)


Image via Pixabay
  • mySociety and Open Knowledge are teaming up to track the world's electoral boundaries. "We, and Open Knowledge International, are looking for the digital files that hold electoral boundaries, for every country in the world — and you can help…there’s a very good reason for this request. When people make online tools to help citizens contact their local politicians, they need to be able to match users to the right representatives. So head on over to the Every Boundary survey and see how you can help…" (mySociety)
  • Malaysia's new ruling party promised to protect free expression. 100 days in, how have they done? "As it approaches its 100 days in office, has Malaysia's new government fulfilled its promises to protect freedom of expression? On May 9, 2018, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) party defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) which had held power for the past half century…Since the election, Malaysians have seen some improvements. Independent news websites such as the Sarawak Report and Medium have been unblocked. The travel ban on political cartoonist and activist Zunar, a fierce critic of former PM Najib Razak, has been lifted. But other outspoken voices are still under pressure." (Global Voices)


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