Today in OpenGov: Remain in Dark


In today's edition, most dark money stays that way despite a rule change, we dig deeper into our analysis of public records requests, President Trump's Saudi Arabian financial interests are in the spotlight, mourning a journalist on the anniversary of her murder, and more.  

Today's roundup is brought to you by the Talking Heads.

Washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • Despite recent court ruling and FEC guidance, most dark money groups didn't reveal their donors ahead of the midterms. "Dark-money political groups are continuing to shield their anonymous donors from public view, despite a recent court order that called for an unprecedented look at their funders. A major disclosure deadline passed Monday with few political nonprofits unveiling any donors, and even some of those that did offer a peek at their backers still left the original source of the donations murky." (POLITICO)
  • Some lobbyists distance themselves from Saudi Arabia, others wait on the outcome of Secretary of State's visit in wake of journalist's disappearance. "Washington lobbyists still on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s payroll amid fallout from the presumed death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are awaiting the outcome of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to the region this week before making any further moves…Already, three of the Saudi government’s most prominent lobbying firms in Washington — Glover Park Group, Harbour Group and BGR Group — have severed ties with the lucrative foreign client, which last year spent more than $17 million on U.S. influence campaigns, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The remaining members of the kingdom’s lobbying team are waiting to see what comes of Pompeo’s trip, said people familiar with the matter." (Roll Call)
  • The team writing the Federal Data Strategy is looking for more feedback on their action items. "Agencies will have to use data as a strategic asset by this time next year and the working group tasked with developing a governmentwide plan wants feedback on a list of action items. Federal agencies are under a mandate to use data as a strategic asset in meeting their missions and serving citizens. A Federal Data Strategy team was put together to create a roadmap for departments and programs to follow…The first comment period yielded 237 comments and prompted the working group to alter the 10 principles it was using as a guidepost…For the second comment period starting Wednesday, the group is looking for feedback on the best practices that should be included in the strategy." (NextGov)

States and cities

The 19 most commonly sought data types based on Sunlight's analysis of 110,063 Public Records Requests from 33 cities.
  • Analyzing public records requests to figure out what citizens really want. Alena Stern continued her look at city public records requests which "found that cities need to publish datasets that are of high interest to citizens – to get the benefits of open data and see a decrease in PRRs. We analyzed which types of information are the most popular to help cities do that…To answer this question, we analyzed the content of 110,063 PRRs from 33 cities. We used a machine learning algorithm to group the raw PRR text into 60 coherent categories. We then mapped these 60 topics to the type of data that the city would provide to satisfy the request. This process revealed 19 data types, ranked by popularity, outlined below (controlling for cities with a disproportionately large number of requests)." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • These four state legislatures have exempted themselves from public records rules. "Legislative bodies in four states have made themselves exempt to public record laws. Despite their role in literally enacting those laws, they are not held to the same standard of transparency as the rest of the governmental bodies in those states. For years, the Legislature in IowaMassachusettsMinnesota, and Oklahoma have all barred their records from the public causing points of contention amongst open government advocates, journalists, and constituents seeking more information about their lawmaker’s day-to-day doings." (MuckRock)
  • The FBI raided municipal offices in San Juan, Puerto Rico amid investigation into purchasing practices. "FBI agents raided San Juan's municipal building on Tuesday amid an investigation into purchasing practices used by city officials, including Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz…A spokesman for the agency told news service that Tuesday's raid was related to an ongoing investigation into whether the mayor's office and other city officials had shown favoritism when the city agreed to a contract with the company BR Solutions for $4.7 million over two years…The raid came several weeks after President Trump singled out Cruz while attacking Puerto Rican officials for the slow recovery efforts on the island, accusing the municipal officials of allowing widespread corruption." (The Hill)


The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C isn't technically in Saudi Arabia, but it has benefitted from more than $250,000 in Saudi lobbying money since 2016. 
  • Amid growing Saudi Arabian controversy, President Trump tweets that he has "no financial interests in" that country. "President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied having any personal financial interest in Saudi Arabia as his relationship with the country comes under scrutiny amid the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi…The president's tweet on Tuesday came after several reports detailed Trump's relationship with a number of Saudi businessmen and officials over the years. More recently, a lobbying firm for Saudi Arabia paid Trump International Hotel in Washington more than $270,000 between October 2016 and March 2017 for lodging and catering." (POLITICO)
  • HUD political appointee tapped as acting inspector general at the Interior Department, which is running multiple probes into Secretary Ryan Zinke. "A political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development is replacing the Interior Department’s top internal watchdog, according to an email from HUD Secretary Ben Carson — an unusual arrangement that has ethics watchdogs worried about the fate of several investigations into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Suzanne Israel Tufts, now HUD’s assistant secretary for administration, will become Interior’s acting inspector general, Carson announced in a Friday email obtained by POLITICO." (POLITICO)
  • If Democrats win the House in November they could gain access to President Trump's tax returns, but the cost is unclear. "Democrats, eyeing control of a powerful House tax-writing committee next year, are studying a century-old provision in the federal tax code that could give them access to President Trump’s long-sought tax returns and eventually the ability to make them public…But Democrats expect that Mr. Trump and his appointees within the Treasury would outright refuse to comply, tempting a lawsuit by the House and all but ensuring a long court fight over the legitimacy of Congress’s oversight of the chief executive." (New York Times)

around the world

Caruana Galizia's memorial in May 2018. Image: Camille Fassett.
  • Reflecting a year after the murder of Malta's most famous investigative journalist. "Caruana Galizia was 53 years old when she was murdered on October 16, 2017. She was driving near her home in Bidnija at around 3pm when her car exploded. Her son heard the blast from the family home, and found her remains. Although ten men were arrested and three charged with her assassination, who ordered her killing and why remains unclear.  The death of Daphne Caruana Galizia has divided Malta and shaken governmental and journalistic institutions to their core. The year since has functioned as a national reckoning, a questioning, and a movement." (Freedom of the Press Foundation)
  • How Myanmar's military used Facebook to help incite genocide against the Rohingya minority. "They posed as fans of pop stars and national heroes as they flooded Facebook with their hatred. One said Islam was a global threat to Buddhism. Another shared a false story about the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim man. The Facebook posts were not from everyday internet users. Instead, they were from Myanmar military personnel who turned the social network into a tool for ethnic cleansing, according to former military officials, researchers and civilian officials in the country." (New York Times)
  • How restrictions have shaped journalism about the humanitarian crisis targeting China's Uighur minority. "From the moment reporters arrive in Xinjiang province, a remote region in northwest China, they are shadowed by security officials. Sometimes, it’s just a few. For reporters representing prominent publications, it can be nine or ten. Most of the time, the officials do their best to blend into the background—they wear plain clothes—but they’re always there to intervene should a journalist cross any number of ill-defined lines. In China, where the Communist Party rules, restrictions on the press and the public routinely stifle the flow of information. Xinjiang poses a special challenge, however, as the site of an unfolding humanitarian crisis where members of the Uighur ethnic group are targeted by a sweeping campaign of surveillance and detention." (Columbia Journalism Review)


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