Today in OpenGov: Lighten up already


In today's edition, the Supreme Court lets some light shine on dark money, White House correspondents want more briefings, some state lawmakers can't stop raking in campaign cash despite running unopposed, and more. 

washington watch

The new is a good step, but doesn't quite live up to expectations.
  • Congressional Research Reports are now publicly available through official channels, but the disclosures need some work. "Congress’ in-house research division has moved to make more of its reports public, as required by law, but the new website is already drawing criticism. Under the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill, the Congressional Research Service had to publish all nonconfidential reports on a public website operated by the Library of Congress. The website went live Tuesday, meeting the deadline set by appropriators…Government transparency advocates say the content of the new website does not meet the requirements set out in law. Of the 627 reports available on the site, there are no reports from before January 2018. That is not a comprehensive collection of so-called active reports, defined as "current and relative to the legislative agenda.'" (Roll Call)
  • After brief delay, Supreme Court lets ruling that will force dark money disclosure stand. "Secret money in politics will soon be a lot less secret. That’s because the Supreme Court today let stand a lower court ruling forcing politically active nonprofit groups to disclose the identities of any donor giving more than $200 when those groups advertise for or against political candidates." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • The FEC is considering restrictions that would make it harder for politicians to use their leadership PACs as slush funds for personal expenses. "On Monday, the Federal Election Commission announced that it is seeking public comment on a proposed rule that would stop politicians from spending political contributions on personal expenses such as golf club fees, luxury resort stays, and fine dining. If the FEC amends the regulation in question, it would explicitly add a type of fundraising vehicle known as leadership PACs to the list of campaign funds that cannot be spent for 'personal use.'" (Sludge)
  • Confused by the specifics of the Constitution? This new project aims to educate using the Constitution Annotated. "Want to know the parameters of a president’s pardoning power? What about the definition of the emoluments clause? Or what constitutes an impeachable offense? The Supreme Court decisions that have informed such constitutional questions — all hot topics during the Trump administration— are now easily searchable thanks to a new project by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School. The non-profit institute this week, working with the transparency advocacy groups Demand Progress and, published the first XML version of the Constitution Annotated, a document produced by the Congressional Research Service that analyses more than 9,000 Supreme Court Cases that reference the constitution." (Roll Call)


The Trump White House has taken a standoffish stance towards press briefings. In 2017 they banned cameras from some briefings, prompting CNN to send courtroom sketch artist Bill Hennessy to capture the scene.
  • The White House Correspondents Association is asking for more press briefings. "The White House Correspondents' Association urged the White House to offer more press briefings, after a summer with far fewer than previous ones…The White House cut down its number of press briefings, dropping to only 13 briefings spanning a total of four hours…" (The Hill)
  • The Secret Service wants Congress to lift the cap on their overtime for the second time since the start of the Trump administration. Before they allow it, the Congressional oversight committees have some questions. "The Secret Service is again asking lawmakers to lift the cap on overtime pay for agents, but this time congressional Republicans want answers. President Trump signed a bill earlier this year to raise the statutory limit on overtime pay for Secret Service agents providing protective details, both for 2018 and retroactively to 2017. The agency has requested that Congress once again raise the cap into at least through the 2020 presidential election…Before lawmakers authorize another such increase, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the respective chairmen of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked to see how the details for Trump and his family compare to those of his predecessors." (Government Executive)
  • President Trump's FEMA chief is facing criminal and congressional probes of his travel habits. "With the federal response to Hurricane Florence still unfolding, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is reportedly now the subject of federal prosecutors’ review of his use of agency vehicles and staff for personal trips from Washington to his home in Hickory, N.C…prosecutors are looking into whether Brock Long’s regular weekend trips over the past year violated any of six federal laws. The Homeland Security Department is thought to be conducting its own probe of Long’s travel expenses, though that office has not directly confirmed the news reports. Also on Monday, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote to Long asking for documents on his trips."(Government Executive) Meanwhile, a senior FEMA official has been suspended without pay as part of the DHS inspector general's investigation. (POLITICO)


  • At least 26 state legislators are raising money despite running unopposed this year. "Alabama’s Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon has collected more than $248,000 in campaign donations ahead of the Nov. 6 elections. His opponent? Nobody. McCutcheon is one of at least 26 legislative leaders in statehouses across America who are raking in cash despite running unopposed this year, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of National Institute on Money in Politics data. Two of these power brokers have already raised more than $2 million apiece. The safe legislators represent an attractive prospect for statehouse lobbyists and power-seekers: the sure bet. Contributions to these influential politicians can buy face time and favor with those who set state legislative agendas, experts say." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called California's net neutrality law "illegal" at a speech last week. "California's attempt to enforce net neutrality rules is 'illegal' and 'poses a risk to the rest of the country,' Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said in a speech on Friday…Pai targeted the California rules in a speech at the Maine Heritage Policy Center…If California's bill is signed into law, ISPs and broadband industry trade groups will likely sue the state to block the rules. But the FCC's preemption authority is not unlimited, as seen in a 2016 court decision that prevented the FCC from preempting state laws that restrict the growth of municipal broadband networks." (Ars Technica)
  • The U.S. is requiring two Chinese state-owned news agencies to register as foreign agents. "The Justice Department has informed China’s Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network that they must register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to a person familiar with the matter. The state-owned news agencies will be required to disclose information about their annual budget and expenditures, their ownership structure and other information under the act, which mandates registration with the Justice Department by organizations and individuals that attempt to influence U.S. policy makers or public opinion on behalf of foreign governments." (Bloomberg)
  • This journalist was arrested for leading a fact-checking training in Kazakhstan. "A media fact-checking workshop in northwestern Kazakhstan came to an abrupt conclusion on September 15 when police barged in, broke up the event and arrested one of the workshop leaders, Aleksandr Gorokhovsky. The workshop's organiser, Lukpan Akhmedyarov, is the editor of independent regional newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya, that has long been the target of state harassment." (Global Voices)


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