Today in OpenGov: Face up to the Facts


In today's edition, Facebook faces the fallout from a report on its attempts to avoid scandal, we join a coalition urging Congress to protect the Mueller probe, two tragic deaths are tied to a Colombian bribery probe, looking back on a big spending gubernatorial race, and more. 

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

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washington watch

  • Facebook cuts ties with a conservative PR shop following bombshell report, promises more changes. "Facebook has cut ties with a conservative public relations group called Definers hours after a Wednesday New York Times story revealed that the group had circulated a document linking some of Facebook's left-wing critics to liberal billionaire George Soros." (Ars Technica) "Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to cut ties with 'D.C.-type firms' as his company fought to escape yet another bout of furor, this time surrounding its efforts to contain the damage from Russian election interference and consumer privacy violations…He added that neither he nor Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, a central figure in the Times story, knew about the firm’s work for Facebook until reading the newspaper’s report." (POLITICO)
  • Facebook report raises campaign finance questions in the Senate. "At a Senate Judiciary markup on Thursday morning, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said she would send a letter to Facebook and the Justice Department regarding concerns raised yesterday that the company might be violating campaign finance rules. Her criticism follows an explosive report from The New York Times yesterday that documents how Facebook’s leaders handled the fallout of the 2016 election…Later Thursday afternoon, Klobuchar, along with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), sent a letter addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asking for the Justice Department to" expand an ongoing investigation to that end. (The Verge)
  • Florida Senate race will be decided by a hand recount. "Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Thursday ordered election workers to recount all ballots by hand in the state’s tight race for US Senate, a move that Democrats hope will uncover thousands of votes in urban areas that tabulating machines may have missed. That scenario could be a windfall for incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who trails his Republican challenger, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, by fewer than 12,603 votes, or 0.15%. That puts their race within a 0.25% margin that automatically triggers a manual recount." (BuzzFeed)
  • Most incoming freshman members of Congress swore off corporate PAC cash, but that won't stop efforts to influence them. "The anti-PAC class cometh, but K Street has a backup plan. Lobbyists for business interests say they’re implementing workarounds to get to know the 32 incoming freshman Democratic House members who have sworn off corporate political action committee dollars…Instead of PAC dollars, corporate interests plan to rely on individual personal donations from their executives, lobbyists and other consultants, instead of the collective contributions from corporate PACs. In addition, lobbyists will be sure to attend meet-and-greets happening over the coming days and weeks with the new members." (Roll Call)

states and cities

Image via MuckRock.
  • Newly released records shed light on how police departments use license plate readers as tracking tools. "The Electronic Frontier Foundation and MuckRock have filed hundreds of public records requests with law enforcement agencies around the country to reveal how data collected from automated license plate readers is used to track the travel patterns of drivers. We focused exclusively on departments that contract with surveillance vendor Vigilant Solutions to share data between their ALPR systems. Today we are releasing records obtained from 200 agencies, accounting for more than 2.5 -billion license plate scans in 2016 and 2017. This data is collected regardless of whether the vehicle or its owner or driver are suspected of being involved in a crime." (MuckRock)
  • What Works Cities updates its Certification criteria. "Earlier this year, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program created a set of criteria aimed at molding a new standard for excellence in city government. Dubbed What Works Cities Certification, they laid out the specifications and awarded tiered certification standards to nine major American cities, with five more also being recognized. They were given these certifications for 2017. Now for the first time, What Works Cities has published its certification criteria for 2018, doing so in a post on medium." (Government Technology)
  • $171.5 million can buy quite a campaign, just ask the new Governor of Illinois. "To get a taste for the kind of campaign a record-shattering $171.5 million can buy, consider just one night in early October when billionaire J.B. Pritzker and Gov. Bruce Rauner squared off at a local television studio in the highest-profile debate of the race. A few blocks away, a full-force messaging machine was lying in wait…The debate blitz offers just a glimpse into the sophistication and exorbitance behind the record-spending, platinum-plated operation put together by Pritzker, who, after last week’s 15-point rout over Rauner, became the country’s wealthiest elected official, overtaking President Donald Trump, according to Forbes." (POLITICO)
  • This state representative wants to bring FOIA to the South Carolina General Assembly. "Republican Weston Newton was re-elected to South Carolina's House of Representatives District 120, a position representing Beaufort and Jasper Counties that he's held since he was first elected in 2012. After two years in the House, he was asked to chair a new committee on oversight. In the past four years, Newton has set a standard for transparency and accountability from agencies across the state…But Newton says there are still areas that need improvement like the Freedom of Information Act." (WSAV)


The United States Department of Justice building in Washington, DC. 
  • We joined 28 other organizations and experts to call on Congress to protect the Mueller probe. "29 national organizations and ethics experts sent a letter to Senators and Representatives today expressing deep concern about the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General. The letter urged Members to help ensure that Whitaker is removed from overseeing the Mueller investigation and that the Mueller investigation is protected from any interference." (Democracy 21
  • A major pro-Trump political group raised $22 million worth of dark money in its first year of existence. "A political group aiming to be a megaphone for President Donald Trump’s policies raised $26 million in its first year in operation, new disclosures show, the vast majority of which came in through a political nonprofit that does not have to reveal its donors. The group, America First, consists of two parts that face different federal disclosure requirements. Political nonprofit America First Policies raised $22 million in 2017, a filing with the IRS showed Thursday." (POLITICO)
  • Trump EPA official arrested for multiple violations of Alabama ethics laws. "An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official in the Trump administration was arrested Thursday two days after being indicted on multiple alleged violations of Alabama ethics laws.  Trey Glenn, the regional director for EPA’s southeast region, was arrested for allegedly helping an Alabama law firm fight potential EPA actions to clean up contaminated sites on behalf of Drummond Co., which could be responsible for the cleanups." (The Hill)
  • Donald Trump Jr. went to India for a business trip. Why did it cost taxpayers $100,000? "Donald Trump Jr.’s trip to India to sell his family’s luxury condominium projects cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $100,000, documents obtained by The Washington Post show. The Department of Homeland Security, responding to a Freedom of Information request, released 47 pages of purchase orders, requisition forms and planning worksheets showing Trump Jr.’s February trip cost more than $97,805 for hotel rooms, airfare, car rental and overtime for Secret Service agents." (Washington Post)
  • A group of conservative lawyers is teaming up to push back against the Trump administration's attacks on the rule of law. "Checks and balances – they're the foundation of our democratic system of government. Now some conservative attorneys are borrowing the term as the title of a new group focused on the Trump administration. It was organized by conservative lawyer George Conway III. And if his name is familiar, it's because he's married to presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway. Marisa Maleck clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She's among those who have joined." (NPR)

around the world

A newsstand advertising The Citizen, an independent newspaper in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo by Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Free press advocates detained in Tanzania. "Two media freedom advocates from the Committee to Protect Journalists were detained and interrogated by plainclothes officers in Tanzania, while they were visiting the country as part of a fact-finding mission. CPJ staffers Angela Quintal and Muthoki Mumo were coerced to leave their hotel and were detained for several hours at a private home by plainclothes officers. The officers also seized and attempted to search their electronic devices." (Global Voices)
  • An auditor who flagged suspicious payments and his son die under suspicious circumstances in Colombia amid wide ranging graft probe. "By the time he appeared on Colombian television Monday night, Jorge Enrique Pizano was dead. He’d prerecorded the interview, he said into the camera, because as an auditor who’d flagged suspicious payments in a major infrastructure project, he was the object of a plot. After Pizano died from what was assumed to be a heart attack, his son Alejandro Pizano Ponce de Leon arrived from Spain. At the family house outside Bogota where the death had occurred, Alejandro took a sip from a bottle of water on his father’s desk, got violently ill and died on the way to the hospital. The cause: cyanide poisoning." (Bloomberg)
  • After the EU issued a report critical of the state of Romania's democracy, the country's government is pushing back. "Following a report from the bloc that slammed the Balkan state for democratic backsliding, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Florin Iordache said the government would continue a drive to overhaul the judiciary. The legislative push, combined with a campaign to remove prosecutors who are cracking down on graft, is at the center of criticism that Romania is trying to ease pressure on crooked politicians." (Bloomberg)


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