Today in OpenGov: Get Out The Vote


Happy election day! If you haven't already, we hope you're making your plan to vote.

In today's edition, one more chunk of election news (until the next election cycle starts to heat up), the pharmaceutical lobby isn't a big fan of discounted drugs for senior citizens, the Supreme Court allows the Census citizenship question lawsuit to begin, New York State's transparency problem, and more. 

midterm madness

Image via Pixabay.
  • On eve of election, President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions raised the spectre of "voter fraud," sparking fears of voter suppression. "Minutes before President Donald Trump warned on Twitter that he’d seek “Maximum Criminal Penalties” against anyone caught voting illegally in the midterms, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday he would deploy monitors to 35 jurisdictions across the country to ensure compliance with voting rights laws and stop 'fraud in the voting process.' While DOJ always monitors elections across the country, critics quickly lambasted Sessions for nurturing a narrative of widespread voter fraud, a right-wing myth that has been refuted time and again." (BuzzFeed)
  • These Democratic House candidates got their rent covered thanks to the DCCC and a loophole in campaign finance law. "House Democrats have exploited campaign finance law to pay rent for dozens of campaign offices used by their candidates in 2018 — an arrangement that's further padded the party's massive financial advantage in the midterms even as Republicans cry foul. A number of House Democratic candidates haven't paid a dime to rent the buildings where they based their campaign operations, according to a POLITICO review of Federal Election Commission records. Others rented space earlier this year but suddenly stopped some or all of the payments after winning their primaries. In their place, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee picked up the tab — paying over $1 million in office rent to property managers and limited liability companies in 22 states over the past two years, the committee's FEC reports show." (POLITICO)
  • Federal employees, taking time off from their day jobs, have been more engaged than ever in the midterms. "Thousands of federal employees have spread across the country to knock on doors, make phone calls and otherwise encourage potential voters—and their own members—to go to the polls and support their preferred candidates. Feds, operating in their private capacities on their own time, have taken to their political battle stations largely through their unions. Leaders of the labor groups said the participation was unprecedented for their organizations." (Government Executive
  • Why is this former GOP megadonor funding attack ads against Rep. Steve King (R-IA)? It's the white nationalism, stupid. "The ad, called “Klan and Neo-Nazi Approved,” is one of three TV spots attacking King that are financed by American Values PAC, a super PAC with just one disclosed donor: billionaire hedge fund manager Seth Klarman of Boston. The PAC reported receiving $500,000 from Klarman on Sept. 11. If more donors exist, the public won’t find out until after Election Day…Klarman’s committee has spent two-thirds ($368,000) of the total outside money in a race that has tightened unexpectedly in the days since reports about King’s white supremacist statements and European travel surfaced. " (Sludge)

washington watch

Washington, DC.
  • Despite publicly backing Trump administration efforts to rein in drug prices, the pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying against rollbacks for seniors behind the scenes. "Pharma giants have been quick to tout their efforts to help the Trump administration rein in runaway drug prices, but behind the scenes the industry has been lobbying furiously to roll back recently mandated medicine discounts for U.S. seniors. Drug companies are focusing lobbying efforts to use a possible lame-duck session of Congress to peel back a legislative loss they suffered earlier this year, according to people familiar with the efforts. On the line for the drug industry is $1.9 billion next year, according to one estimate. Critics say the effort by the industry has the potential to increase costs for some of the most vulnerable and medically fragile Americans: seniors on Medicare." (Bloomberg)
  • Supreme Court declines to hear broadband industry's case against Obama-era net neutrality rules. "The US Supreme Court has declined to hear the broadband industry's challenge of Obama-era net neutrality rules. The Federal Communications Commission's 2015 order to impose net neutrality rules and strictly regulate broadband was already reversed by Trump's pick for FCC chairman, Ajit Pai. But AT&T and broadband industry lobby groups were still trying to overturn court decisions that upheld the FCC order. A win for the broadband industry could have prevented future administrations from imposing a similarly strict set of rules." (Ars Technica)
  • Newly released documents indicate that the CIA monitored Congressional communications with whistleblowers. "After a four-and-a-half year wait, one of the Senate’s key whistleblower advocates succeeded in arranging the declassification of documents he says show that the CIA inappropriately monitored congressional staff correspondence with whistleblowers. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Thursday released a pair of 'congressional notifications' from 2014 just delivered to him by newly installed inspector general for the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson…His years-long pursuit of the documents dovetails with his more recent interest in obtaining disclosures of more documents pertaining to the termination of Dan Meyer, who for years was the ombudsman for the Intelligence Community." (Government Executive)
  • This project converted millions of state and federal legal documents into open data. "A new free website spearheaded by the Library Innovation Lab at the Harvard Law School makes available nearly 6.5 million state and federal cases dating from the 1600s to earlier this year, in an initiative that could alter and inform the future availability of similar areas of public-sector big data. Led by the Lab, which was founded in 2010 as an arena for experimentation and exploration into expanding the role of libraries in the online era, the Caselaw Access Project went live Oct. 29 after five years of discussions, planning and digitization of roughly 100,000 pages per day over two years." (Government Technology)

states and cities

The Center for Public Integrity's 2015 State Integrity Report didn't give great grades to state public records laws.
  • Is there an ideal state level public records law? "The way you gain access to government records varies by state, but across the board requesters continue to face impediments in getting the docs. With 50 public records laws across the nation, which stand out as particularly good examples of how the process should work? In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity ranked each state’s public records law and released their findings in the 2015 State Integrity Report. Their state analysis gives little hope for records laws as only three states scored higher than a D+. The report also shows how states can have countless exemptions and loopholes that hinder the release of records." (MuckRock)
  • New York State's transparency problem. "Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to manage 'the most transparent' administration New Yorkers have ever seen. The reality is that his administration continues to keep a tight lid on public records or takes months to respond to even the most basic requests for information.  News 4 Investigates from May through August filed Freedom of Information law requests with every state agency listed on Cuomo’s “Open FOIL NY” portal. The portal, which Cuomo revealed to the public in June, makes it easier to file a Freedom of Information (FOI) request…News 4 Investigates waited months for documents.  In fact, state agencies only began to release data that WIVB requested after asking the governor’s office on Oct. 24 for comment on his administration’s refusal to release public records." (WIVB 4 via NFOIC)
  • Corporations are increasingly leverage public records requests to put pressure on critics. "Dennis J. Ventry Jr., a law professor at the University of California, Davis, drew the ire of tax preparation companies like Intuit and H&R Block this summer by criticizing a deal they have to provide a free tax filing service through the Internal Revenue Service. The companies promptly hit back with a tactic that corporations, lobbyists and interest groups are increasingly using against academic researchers: Their trade coalition filed a public records request with the university in July seeking everything Mr. Ventry had written or said about the companies this year, including emails, text messages, voice mail messages and hand-jotted notes…The request generated 1,189 pages of documents, university officials said. And it was just one example of how both state-level public records laws and the federal Freedom of Information Act, written to ensure transparency and accountability in government, have morphed into potent weapons in legal and business disputes, raising questions about the chilling effects — and costs — they impose on targets who are doing research in controversial or sensitive fields." (New York Times)
  • This election day, transparency is on the ballot in Nevada and San Francisco. "In Nevada, Question 1 on this year’s ballot is Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment, better known as Marsy’s Law, and would exempt certain law enforcement records from being disclosed. Meanwhile in San Francisco, Proposition B, the Personal Information Protection Policy Charter Amendment better known as the “Privacy First” measure is set to protect the personal information of San Francisco residents from abuse by tech companies. Yet, the measure’s broad language could award the City’s Board of Supervisors the ability to change its transparency laws in the future." (MuckRock)


Image via Pixabay.
  • Supreme Court allows trial over Census citizenship question to begin. On Friday, Chris Geidner explained, "The Supreme Court will not stop the trial over the proposed census citizenship question from beginning next week, the court announced Friday afternoon. The trial before US District Judge Jesse Furman is slated to begin Monday morning. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch noted that they would have granted the Justice Department’s request to halt the scheduled trial. Furman has been hearing the challenges, brought by state governments and immigrant organizations, to the question’s inclusion in the once-a-decade census." (BuzzFeed)
  • Judge orders evidence-gathering to begin in emoluments lawsuit against President Trump. "A federal judge in Maryland on Friday ordered evidence-gathering to begin in a lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by maintaining a financial interest in his company’s Washington hotel. The plaintiffs are seeking records that could illuminate potential conflicts of interest between Mr. Trump and foreign leaders or state officials who patronize Trump International Hotel, blocks from the White House…So far, Judge Messitte has ruled against Mr. Trump at every step. But the case is still in its early stages, and the Justice Department signaled on Friday that it would seek emergency relief from a higher court rather than comply with his latest order." (New York Times)
  • This week in Trump conflicts? Trump's taxes, federal financial disclosures, and plans for ethics reform in the next Congress. In Lynn Walsh's weekly look at Trump conflicts of interest, " the latest edition of the Trump, Inc. podcast takes a look at how President Donald Trump approaches taxes, Forbes takes a look at what the president’s financial disclosures include, what they don’t and why that’s a problem, and the Democrats talk about possible ethics reform." (Sunlight Foundation)


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