Today in OpenGov: Franking, my dear, I don’t give a damn


In today's edition, a Maine Representative makes the most of the "franking" privilege, a key immigration office quietly removes its staff directory, Kris Kobach claims victory, and more. 

washington watch

  • The Russia probe is fueling fundraising on both sides of the aisle. "Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation hasn’t yet become a top issue for most voters. But when it comes to fundraising, Democrats and Republicans battling for control of Congress in November are using the probe to cash in. Some Democrats are pitching to donors that they’ll prevent Mueller’s ouster or other interference by President Donald Trump. Republicans are telling contributors that they need to keep control of Congress to block the president’s impeachment or continued "witch hunts" by Democrats who want him out of office." (Bloomberg)
  • As election season approaches, this Maine Representative is leaning heavily on taxpayer funded constituent mailers. "Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin is flooding Maine's 2nd District with congressional mailers. Poliquin’s mailers highlight his work on the GOP tax legislation passed last year, the opioid crisis, and increasing consequences for sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, the Portland Press Herald reported. Poliquin is able to do so because of franking privileges which allow members of Congress to send mailers with a signature instead of a stamp…Members are banned from sending franked mailers to constituents within 90 days of November elections or before their primaries." (Roll Call)
  • A top Pentagon spokeswoman is being investigated for misusing staff, retaliating after complaints. "One of Defense Secretary James Mattis' most senior civilian advisers is being investigated by the Defense Department Office of Inspector General for allegedly retaliating against staff members after she used some of them to conduct her personal errands and business matters, according to four sources familiar with the probe…White is alleged to have misused support staff, asking them, among other things, to fetch her drycleaning, run to the pharmacy for her and work on her mortgage paperwork. Staffers also charge that she inappropriately transferred personnel after they filed complaints about her." (CNN)


Snapshot of a portion of ORR’s staff directory webpage captured by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine on October 11, 2017
  • HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement quietly removed its staff directory from the web late last year. The latest report from Sunlight's Web Integrity Project details how "the Office of Refugee Resettlement removed its staff directory from its website, likely between October and December of last year. The change came just before the political firestorm over the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the border and accusations that the office has failed to communicate transparently with the public during the controversy." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Fight between Turkey and the Trump administration will be a boon to foreign lobbyists. "Whatever the result of President Donald Trump’s tariff fight with Turkey, it is almost certainly going to rouse a well-financed and deeply entrenched influence-peddling operation in Washington. The Republic of Turkey spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on well-connected D.C. lobbyists to promote its interests in Washington. It makes major gifts to American think tanks that do not have to be reported under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. And it donates money to political candidates through political action committees such as the Turkish Coalition USA." (Roll Call)
  • A judge dismissed an emoluments lawsuit against President Trump filed by 17 House Democrats. "A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit from a group of 17 House Democrats seeking documents related to President Trump's financial ties to his Washington, D.C., hotel.  The Democrats, all of whom serve on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, brought the case against the General Services Administration (GSA) in November in order to determine if Trump benefits financially from the hotel." (The Hill)
  • Has the Treasury Department been slow walking the Senate's Russia investigation? "In its investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Senate Intelligence Committee has spent more than a year trying to follow the money. But its efforts, unparalleled on Capitol Hill, have been hampered by a surprising force: the US Treasury Department, which has delayed turning over crucial financial records and refused to provide an expert to help make sense of the complex money trail. Even some of the department’s own personnel have questioned whether Treasury is intentionally hamstringing the investigation." (BuzzFeed)

states and cities

Another day, another picture of the West Virginia State Capitol. Via David Wilson.
  • Is West Virginia's move to impeach its entire state Supreme Court part of a larger trend to curb the power of state courts? "The question at the heart of West Virginia lawmakers' unprecedented move to impeach all of the state’s top justices is intent. Did lawmakers in the state House vote Monday to impeach the entire court because the justices were misusing state funds to a degree that merits impeachment? Or are West Virginia’s Republican lawmakers trying to get rid of the justices on trumped-up charges so the state’s GOP governor can appoint new ones? Intent, in politics as in life, is hard to decipher. But what's not in question among judicial independence experts is that West Virginia headlines a potentially troubling trend among state legislatures this year of politicians moving to exert control over a separate branch of government." (Washington Post) For more on the potential political motives behind the West Virginia impeachments and their timing, check out this thread from Carolyn Fiddler (h/t Election Law Blog)
  • Kris Kobach wins razor thin victory in primary for GOP candidate for governor of Kansas after his opponent declines to ask for a recount. "A week after voters went to the polls in Kansas, Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded in the race for the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday night, handing a razor-thin victory to Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach. Mr. Colyer had raised concerns in recent days about Mr. Kobach’s role in the vote-counting process, citing the secretary of state’s responsibility for overseeing the tallying of mail-in and provisional ballots. But speaking from the Statehouse in Topeka, Mr. Colyer said he would not challenge the results or ask for a recount." (New York Times)
  • It's been a busy summer for local transparency news in Washington D.C. You can keep up with all the latest thanks to this roundup from the D.C. Open Government Coalition.


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