Today in OpenGov: Who read the comments?


In today's edition, scandal fatigue is making it less likely that public pressure will boost government ethics, California approves a tough net neutrality law and is immediately sued by the federal government, an emoluments suit against President Trump is allowed to proceed, a new law in Bangladesh threatens free speech, and more. 

washington watch

Image via Pixabay. 
  • In midterm money race, Democrats find advantage among small, online donors. "Hundreds of thousands of online donors are pouring gobs of cash into Democratic House campaigns at an accelerating clip — a bulwark against a late-summer advertising assault that Republicans hope could save their majority. Republicans have long seen their outside-money advantage as a key factor in the battle for the House, with Congressional Leadership Fund pledging to spend a massive $100 million in 2018…But the gush of online money to Democratic candidates has allowed them to hit the airwaves themselves earlier than ever, blunting the GOP’s game plan." (POLITICO)
  • Is public pressure enough to make government officials more ethical? Not according to this panel of experts. "The politicization of ethics and a near-constant stream of scandals is making it harder to pressure politicians to comply with government ethics standards, a panel of ethics experts said Friday…Panelists said both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for creating a political atmosphere where ideology is more important than ethics." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • A flood of fake public comments supported this bank merger. How much did the relevant regulator know? "Comments submitted to a top banking regulator supporting a 2015 merger between OneWest Bank and CIT Bank were attributed to people who never sent them, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and reviewed by The Intercept. The fake comments appear to be tied directly to Joseph Otting, the head of the regulatory agency himself. The documents reviewed by The Intercept show that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the main bank regulator for nationally chartered banks, knew about the fake comments at the time, before it approved the merger. But the OCC appears to have done no meaningful investigation of the matter, and even cited public support for the merger when approving it." (The Intercept)
  • The House Intelligence Committee will release transcripts from its defunct Russia probe. "The House Intelligence Committee voted Friday to publicly release transcripts of 53 witness interviews — amounting to thousands of pages — in the panel’s now-defunct Russia investigation. The measure passed unanimously, though not until Republicans swatted down efforts by Democrats to release a handful of additional transcripts — including those of Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)." (POLITICO)

states and cities

  • California approves tough net neutrality law, is immediately sued by the Department of Justice. "The Justice Department is suing California to block a recently signed law restoring net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission discarded last year, setting up a high-stakes legal bout between the Trump administration and the nation's most populous state. The announcement comes immediately on the heels of Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to sign the bill into law. Brown had until midnight on Sunday to approve the measure, which was passed by the state’s legislature in August." (POLITICO)
  • Louisville, Kentucky ordered to reveal its unsuccessful proposal to lure Amazon's second headquarters. "A judge ordered Tuesday that Louisville must turn over to the Courier Journal the full proposal it offered Amazon to build its second headquarters here.  The order was issued the day after Mayor Greg Fischer doubled down on the decision to hide details of the proposal from the public, saying it would be 'business malpractice' to share.  Louisville's proposal was one of 238 submitted across the United States. The city's bid cost about $170,000. Louisville was not selected as one of 20 finalists for its new HQ2." (Courier Journal)
  • Are government data dashboards living up to the hype? "For years we’ve been asking people in state and local government how they let people know about useful data-based information they’ve collected. We wanted to get an idea of what they considered the most effective way to communicate key findings that can impact constituents and inform decisionmakers. Most of them answered by referring us to the wonders of their online dashboards, which are basically a graphic approach to displaying data in a way that helps policymakers and the general public easily grasp the information. There are dashboards that show road conditions, citizen health measures, air quality, crime data, and on and on. But on closer examination, we’ve found that pride in dashboards is not necessarily warranted." (Governing)


  • Judge rules that emoluments suit filed by Congressional Democrats can move forward. "Democrats in Congress can move forward with a lawsuit claiming President Donald Trump's ongoing ties to his business empire violate the US Constitution, a federal judge ruled Friday. The ruling isn't about the merits of the members' allegations — the judge only concluded that they had standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place. But it means congressional Democrats cleared a critical first hurdle in pursuing novel claims under the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Claims against Trump." (BuzzFeed)
  • White House increasingly eschewing briefing room to get its message out. "Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to Brett Kavanaugh’s angry and emotional testimony on Friday morning — via a television hit with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos from the White House driveway. Behind a door a hundred or so yards away, the James S. Brady Briefing Room looked like an airport luggage storage room. The famous podium in front of the blue White House seal was surrounded by bags and camera equipment, the front row of seats filled by technicians working crossword puzzles. Over the past two months, this scene has become the norm." (POLITICO)
  • The Trump administration really doesn't want Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to be deposed in a lawsuit over the Census citizenship question. "The Trump administration is taking steps to move the legal fight over its controversial plan to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to a court filing submitted Friday, attorneys at the Justice Department — which is representing the administration in the six lawsuits around the country over the hotly contested question — are preparing to appeal recent orders by lower courts for the depositions of two key Trump administration officials behind the question: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Justice Department official John Gore." (NPR)

around the world

Journalists expressing their opposition to Bangladesh's new Digital Security Act using the hashtag #IamASpy. Image via Global Voices.
  • Is Bangladesh's new digital security law a threat to free speech? It sure looks that way. "On September 19, the Digital Security Act 2018 was passed by the parliament in Bangladesh, with just 11 lawmakers opposing the bill, despite widespread opposition from journalists and human rights advocates. Intended as a replacement for Bangladesh's ICT Act, the Digital Security Act criminalizes various types of online speech, ranging from defamatory messages to speech that 'injures religious values or sentiments.' It also authorises lengthy prison sentences for using the internet to create public unrest, and for 'gathering, sending or preserving' classified government documents using a digital device." (Global Voices)
  • How NDI is using technology to help support democracy. "NDI continues to expand its efforts at the intersection of tech and democracy in response to the growing, global challenges of disinformation and cyberattacks against political parties and democracy organizations. Over the coming months, NDI will be rolling out a number of new initiatives to promote the integrity of information in politics and to support the civic tech community." (NDI)
  • Iran sentences three to death on corruption charges amid renewed U.S. sanctions. "Iran sentenced three people to death for corruption on Sunday, in the strongest warning yet to officials and merchants not to exploit the country’s financial troubles as the next round of U.S. sanctions loom. The verdicts come a day after the central bank was given more powers to intervene in the currency market to help stop a slide in the rial that has gathered pace since the United States in August reimposed a ban on the Islamic Republic trading in U.S. dollars." (Bloomberg)


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