Today in OpenGov: It’s the ethics, stupid


In today's edition, watching the watchdogs, dark money in Michigan's gubernatorial race, the Trump administration's ethics, clashes in Romania, and more. 

washington watch

Image: POGO.
  • Are Inspectors General effective? Finding ways to consistently measure their return on investment. "POGO recently released a report recommending improvements to strengthen the effectiveness and independence of our federal inspectors general that focused, in part, on these issues. The Watchdogs After 40 Years: Recommendations for Our Nation’s Federal Inspectors General includes a specific recommendation to create a more standardized return-on-investment metric. This would allow Congress and others to have a more clear understanding of performance." (Project on Government Oversight)
  • As money in politics becomes a campaign issue, some Democratic candidates are swearing off all PAC money. "…since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates for unrestricted political spending, polls have shown that voters are growing increasingly bitter about the role of money in politics. The issue is now emerging in midterm races around the country, with dozens of Democrats rejecting donations from political action committees, or PACs, that are sponsored by corporations or industry groups. A handful of candidates, including Mr. Phillips, are going a step further and refusing to take any PAC money at all, even if it comes from labor unions or fellow Democrats." (New York Times)
  • Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) suspends campaign in wake of insider trading indictment… "New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins, who was arrested and indicted on charges related to securities fraud earlier this week, has suspended his re-election campaign." (Roll Call) …Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent had been outspoken against big money in politics. Will he change his tune now that he might win? "Nate McMurray wanted nothing to do with the kind of big-money politics that typify competitive congressional races…McMurray, 43, seemingly had little to lose…His race was thoroughly uncompetitive, written off by most state and national Democrats…Then, on Wednesday, everything changed…Representatives of two Democratic super PACs and one special interest liberal PAC tell the Center for Public Integrity they’re now open to supporting McMurray as Collins, who on Saturday suspended his campaign, is en route to federal court instead of the U.S. Capitol." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Rep. Markwayne Mullin ordered to repay family business $40,000 following ethics review. "The House Ethics Committee has called for Rep. Markwayne Mullin to return $40,000 to his family business, Mullin West, following a review that concluded the money was paid out to him in a manner that is out of compliance with House rules and the committee’s recommendations." (Roll Call)

states and cities

Image via Pixabay.
  • Kris Kobach passes oversight over primary election recount to top deputy who donated to his campaign… "Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach handed over his election responsibilities on Friday to a top deputy who is known as a staunch conservative as he remains locked in a tight race with Gov. Jeff Colyer for the Republican nomination…Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker will take over Kobach’s duties and will serve on the State Board of Canvassers, which will certify the final election results. Rucker donated $1,000 to Kobach’s campaign last fall, according to campaign finance records." (Kansas City Star)
  • …Meanwhile, Kobach isn't the only Secretary of State with the power to oversee their own election. "…secretaries of state presiding over their own elections. This year, three Republican secretaries of state with a history of restricting access to the ballot will be presiding over elections in which they are a candidate for higher office. The potential for conflict is not new, nor is it not limited to one party. But in an era where voting rights are an increasingly partisan issue, having politicians overseeing elections—particularly their own—creates an additional incentive for dishonest or politically motivated election oversight." (Mother Jones
  • Lax state ethics rules are making top federal health officials vulnerable to conflicts of interest. "When Surgeon General Jerome Adams was the top health official in Indiana, he owned thousands of dollars in tobacco and pharmaceutical stocks which potentially conflicted with his state responsibilities. Those stocks were never revealed under lax Indiana disclosure laws. His investments became public only when he was required to divest them to serve as the nation’s top doctor — and HHS says he is in full compliance with federal ethics laws. The fact that a public health official invested in companies that many would argue harm public health, or whose business might be affected by his decisions, underscores a significant gap in Indiana ethics requirements — a gap that is all too common in other states, a POLITICO investigation found." (POLITICO)
  • How dark money muddled Michigan's Democratic gubernatorial primary.  "Purity in politics can be hard to prove. It has grown even harder in the past decade, as new state and federal campaign-finance laws have helped to conceal many donors, and Michigan presents an especially dramatic case…In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity ranked it fiftieth out of fifty states for transparency and accountability in state government." (New Yorker)


  • Corruption at the center of the case to impeach President Trump, according to billionaire critic Tom Steyer. "Tom Steyer, the influential Democratic donor and founder of the Need to Impeach campaign, said that the party already has grounds for impeachment against President Trump — and it's all about corruption…In a conversation with BuzzFeed News reporters…Steyer said 'corruption' — rather than the Russia investigation or any policy move — provided the strongest rationale for impeachment, according to a previously undisclosed survey of 200,000 people on his expansive Need to Impeach database. The survey found that 30% of respondents said the president should be impeached for corruption, he said." (BuzzFeed)
  • Using public records requests to search for a unique angle on the coverage of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. "As journalists, we aim to shed light on important people in the news — particularly public officials and Supreme Court nominees — to help our readers understand them, how they think and how they operate. That due diligence leads us to interview people who know the nominees, like colleagues and neighbors.  It requires that we read what the nominees have written or watch speeches they’ve delivered. And it often depends on our requests for public records that could offer our readers a fresh perspective about the nominees. In the case of Mr. Kavanaugh, The Times requested records under Maryland’s public records law from Chevy Chase Section 5, where the nominee’s wife, Ashley, serves as town manager." (New York Times)
  • This week in conflicts? Hatch Act violations, hotel guests, real estate deals, and more. Lynn Walsh checked in with her regular look at Trump administration conflicts. "This week, Kushner Companies rids 666 Fifth Avenue property from its portfolio, a new analysis sheds more light on who is visiting and spending money at President Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., and allegations of Trump administration officials violating the Hatch Act." (Sunlight Foundation)

around the world

Foreign correspondents’ club. Hong Kong government photo via HKFP.
  • Fight over democracy activist's speech at foreign correspondents club in Hong Kong highlights broader tension. "A recent war of words between Hong Kong's former chief executive and the local Foreign Correspondents’ Club shows how Beijing is forcing Hong Kong journalists, both local and international, to toe its political red line…FCC has resisted the political pressure and the talk is still set to take place on August 14. Nevertheless, the political pressure has taken effect on other local media outlets. The head of the city’s public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong Leung Ka-wing said in a regular meeting on 9 of August that the broadcaster should not be used to advocate Hong Kong independence and banned live streaming of Andy Chan’s speech at FCC." (Global Voices)
  • This new project aims to map citizen generated data for sustainable development. "We are excited to announce a new research project around citizen-generated data and the UN data revolution. This research will be led by Open Knowledge International in partnership with King’s College London and the Public Data Lab to develop a vocabulary for governments to navigate the landscape of citizen-generated data…Our research seeks to develop a working vocabulary of different citizen-generated data methodologies. This vocabulary shall highlight clear distinction criteria between different methods, but also point out different ways of thinking about citizen-generated data." (Open Knowledge)
  • Romanian government facing renewed pressure after protests against judicial reforms grow violent. "Romania’s government faces renewed pressure over its controversial overhaul of the judiciary after hundreds of protesters who oppose the changes were injured in clashes with riot police, the first time demonstrations that began 1 1/2 years ago have turned violent. Tear gas and a water cannon were used Friday in Bucharest as some officers were attacked with stones and other objects. More than 400 people needed hospital treatment. As well as sparking fury at home, the government’s reform plans have irked the U.S. and the European Union, swelling the list of disputes with other ex-communist members over the rule of law." (Bloomberg)


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