Today in OpenGov: Under the Influence


In today's edition, billionaires get involved in out-of-state ballot initiatives, the most expensive midterms ever, President Trump's unusual interest in a government building project, and more. 

states and cities

Image via Pixabay.
  • The billionaires crossing state lines to influence ballot measures. "Zuckerberg’s investment in a ballot measure a long way from home is hardly unique. Liberal billionaire George Soros has given $5 million for issues on the ballot this fall around the country. California environmentalist Tom Steyer has spent $10 million. All told, this trio and 22 other American billionaires have invested more than $70.7 million for initiative campaigns this year in 19 states where they do not reside. Meanwhile, as little as $7.2 million has gone from their wallets and those of other billionaires to campaigns in their home states, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state records." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Citizens initiate recall as embattled Massachusetts mayor, indicted on federal wire and tax fraud charges, refuses to step down. "Ten Fall River residents began the process to recall embattled Mayor Jasiel Correia II hours before the City Council on Tuesday postponed a vote until next week on whether to remove him from office because of his arrest on federal fraud and tax charges…Over the course of four years, beginning in 2013,  the mayor persuaded seven people to invest $363,690 in SnoOwl, the company he founded, U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said last week…Correia spent more than $230,000 of that money  on his mayoral campaign, travel, adult entertainment, designer clothes, jewelry, credit card and student loan payments, casinos and a 2011 Mercedes-Benz C300 all-wheel-drive sport sedan, Lelling said." (Boston Herald)
  • New York City libraries celebrate "library privacy week" with education. "New York City is holding its first library privacy week this month, which includes a series of more than 30 free public workshops aimed at teaching residents better data privacy practices. The library privacy week workshops have already started and will continue through Monday, Oct. 22, taking place throughout the city and hosted by the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, Queens Library and the Metropolitan New York Library Council." (Government Technology)
  • New York State attorney general adds Washington trade, lobbying groups to inquiry over fraudulent net neutrality comments. "The New York attorney general subpoenaed more than a dozen telecommunications trade groups, lobbying contractors and Washington advocacy organizations on Tuesday, seeking to determine whether the groups submitted millions of fraudulent public comments to sway a critical federal decision on internet regulation, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation." (New York Times)

washington watch

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  • The 2018 Congressional campaign will likely be the most expensive ever. "This year’s midterm congressional campaign is projected to cost $5 billion, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, easily making it the costliest in U.S. history…More than $3.7 billion has already been spent on the 2018 election, including money from candidates, parties, committees, political action committees and outside groups." (Bloomberg)
  • Embattled House incumbents have spent big on legal fees to fight off scandal. "At least six House Republicans combined to spend more than $325,000 in campaign funds in the most recent quarter alone on legal or crisis management fees related to brewing scandals that have wended their way into the court of public opinion — and, in some cases, real courtrooms." (Roll Call)
  • The shadowy, for-profit group spending huge amounts of money on political Facebook ads. "Over just two weeks in September, a limited-liability company calling itself News for Democracy spent almost $400,000 on more than 16 million impressions for a network of 14 Facebook pages that hadn’t existed until August. This represented the second-largest political ad buy on Facebook for the period, trailing only Beto O’Rourke’s Texas Senate campaign and substantially overshadowing the third-place spender, the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to an analysis by a team at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, led by Damon McCoy…So what is 'News for Democracy'?" (The Atlantic)
  • Senior Department of Treasury employee charged with leaking confidential financial reports. "A senior Treasury Department employee has been arrested on suspicion of leaking a large volume of confidential financial reports, including information related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into dealings between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who is a senior adviser at Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN, was arrested in Virginia on Friday and charged with unauthorized disclosure of suspicious-activity reports filed by banks and other financial institutions." (POLITICO)


The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago.
  • The Trump family publicly sold their business model as a licensing empire, but a new report shows heavy involvement in sometimes shady practices. "Since Donald Trump's fortunes came surging back with the success of “The Apprentice” 14 years ago, his deals have often been scrutinized for the large number of his partners who have ventured to the very edges of the law, and sometimes beyond…Trump and his company have typically countered by saying they were merely licensing his name on these real estate projects in exchange for a fee. They weren’t the developers or in any way responsible. But an eight-month investigation by ProPublica and WNYC reveals that the post-millennium Trump business model is different from what has been previously reported. The Trumps were typically way more than mere licensors or bystanders in their often-troubled deals. They were deeply involved in these projects. They helped mislead investors and buyers — and they profited handsomely from it." (ProPublica)
  • Despite news reports and a letter from HUD Administrator Ben Carson, it's unclear if the Interior Department's acting IG is being replaced by a political appointee… "As of Wednesday afternoon, acting Interior Department Inspector General Mary Kendall had still received no word from the White House on news reports that she is being replaced by an administrator from the Housing and Urban Development Department. Suzanne Israel Tufts, assistant HUD secretary for the Office of Administration since last December, is being sent over to Interior temporarily, according to a Friday internal email from HUD Secretary Ben Carson wishing her well. The email was obtained by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, which tracks IG vacancies." (Government Executive)
  • …Meanwhile, a Connecticut based tribe is suing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the wake of a blocked attempt to open a new casino. "An American Indian tribe in Connecticut is asking a federal court to revive its lawsuit against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, alleging that he illegally bowed to political pressure before blocking them from opening a new casino last year. Interior last year refused to sign off on a proposal from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to open a third casino in Connecticut, after an intense lobbying campaign from MGM Resorts International and two Nevada Republican lawmakers. Las Vegas-based MGM recently opened a new casino in Massachusetts that would have faced competition from the tribes’ joint venture 12 miles away in East Windsor, Conn." (POLITICO)
  • Why would President Trump be so interested in plans to redevelop the FBI's downtown Washington headquarters? "Nearly two years before he would begin his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump arrived in Washington to show off his plans for a luxury hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue under a deal he had reached to lease the site from the General Services Administration. But on that day in September 2013, he also had another property on his mind, only a block away in a prime location midway between the White House and the Capitol…As recently as early 2015, months before he announced his candidacy, an executive at his company expressed concern to a congressional aide about the redevelopment project creating potential competition for Mr. Trump’s hotel. And now, as the first real estate developer turned president, Mr. Trump has again taken an interest in the F.B.I. project." (New York Times)


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