Today in OpenGov: Daddy’s boy


In today's edition, a new report lays out bipartisan suggestions to save democracy, a secret court in Massachusetts where charges disappear, President Trump's family tax benefits, and more. 

washington watch

The United States Supreme Court.
  • New, bipartisan report lays out proposals to reform and strengthen American democracy and rule of law. "In short, time and again abuse produced a response. Reform follows abuse — but not automatically, and not always. Today the country is living through another such moment. Once again, it is time to act. It is time to turn soft norms into hard law. A new wave of reform solutions is essential to restore public trust. And as in other eras, the task of advancing reform cannot be for one or another party alone. Hence the National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy. The Task Force is a nonpartisan group of former public servants and policy experts. We have worked at the highest levels in federal and state government, as prosecutors, members of the military, senior advisers in the White House, members of Congress, heads of federal agencies, and state executives. We come from across the country and reflect varying political views. We have come together to develop solutions to repair and revitalize our democracy…Despite our differences, we have identified concrete ways to fix what has been broken." (Brennan Center)
  • Michael Bloomberg cuts a $20 million check to boost Senate Democrats. "Billionaire Michael Bloomberg will donate $20 million to the super PAC affiliated with Senate Democrats, two Bloomberg advisers said Tuesday, giving a major cash infusion to the party's quest to win the Senate in November…The announcement brings Bloomberg's spending on the 2018 elections up to $100 million, making him one of the biggest donors of the cycle. The former New York City mayor had previously announced plans to spend $80 million helping Democrats flip the House of Representatives. Bloomberg is supporting Democrats this cycle but has donated to both Democrats and Republicans in the past." (POLITICO)
  • The Library of Congress embraces digital in its new 5 year plan. "The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, is moving towards a 'digital-forward' strategy, according to a strategic plan released Tuesday. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced a five-year plan for a 'digital transformation.' …Experimentation is a major tenet of the new strategic plan. The organization has been stuck in the past in many ways, from a computing system built in the 1970s to static processes for staff." (Roll Call)
  • Many senators are pushing for at least some public transparency into the FBI's Brett Kavanaugh investigation. "The FBI’s yet-unfinished findings into misconduct allegations leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh will be the most sought-after documents in Washington once the bureau completes its investigation in the coming days.  Normally, the FBI report would go into Kavanaugh’s background file at the Senate Judiciary Committee — a vault of information accessible only to senators and a select circle of aides. But a growing number of senators from both parties say some version of the report, or at least a summary of the FBI’s findings, needs to be made public considering its newsworthiness." (Washington Post)

states and cities

  • The Secret court in Massachusetts where charges often go to disappear. "Every year, tens of thousands of cases wind up in secret court sessions — formally known as 'show cause hearings' — that are presided over by court clerks and usually held for suspects who haven’t been arrested and don’t pose a flight risk or danger to others. People are generally entitled to these hearings for misdemeanors, but police can request them for felonies as well. The quality of justice behind the clerks’ closed doors can depend on where the hearing is held, who you know, or the color of your skin, according to a Spotlight Team investigation. It’s a land of arbitrary second chances, where the powerful, the privileged, and the lucky can see serious charges like reckless endangerment of a child and motor vehicle homicide quietly swept away in private hearings." (Boston Globe)
  • Democratic candidate for Illinois governor benefited from more than $300,000 in inappropriate property tax breaks in part by removing the toilets from his mansion. "Cook County’s chief watchdog has concluded that more than $330,000 in property tax breaks and refunds that Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker received on one of his Gold Coast mansions — in part by removing toilets — constituted a 'scheme to defraud.' Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard also recommends in the confidential report that Cook County should try to recover the money from the billionaire." (Chicago Sun-Times) Pritzker quickly vowed to repay the money. 
  • New California laws will make it easier for public to access police misconduct and body camera records. "For 40 years, broad exemptions in the California Public Records Law blocked access to law enforcement records. This week, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law two new pieces of legislation that unlock internal records of police misconduct and bring body camera footage to the public…Now with two new laws, SB-1421 and AB-748, the public has the opportunity to review records that were once exempt from oversight." (MuckRock)


President Trump.
  • Report indicates that President Trump has benefited from his parents' wealth to the tune of $413 million via tax fraud and other schemes over the years. "President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found. Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help. But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day. (New York Times) New York State tax authorities have reportedly opened an investigation in response to the report. (Bloomberg)
  • Where in the world is the Secretary of Transportation? "Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s day-to-day calendars are filled with large swaths of time blocked out as “private,” according to POLITICO’s analysis of newly released records — a pattern that several former DOT officials called unusual. In total, Chao clocked more than 290 hours of appointments labeled private — the equivalent of about seven weeks’ vacation — during her first 14 months in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, based on a review of documents provided under the Freedom of Information Act." (POLITICO)
  • DHS was unprepared for "zero tolerance" immigration policy, falsely claimed there was a database to track separated families. "The Department of Homeland Security was unprepared for President Donald Trump’s 'zero tolerance' immigration enforcement policy and the separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents, the agency’s watchdog concluded in a report released Tuesday. Customs and Border Patrol held hundreds of children in short-term facilities longer than permitted and provided 'inconsistent' or 'incorrect' information to their parents, the DHS’s Office of Inspector General said in the report. The department falsely claimed there was a 'central database' to keep track of separated parents and children, according to the review." (Bloomberg)


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