Today in OpenGov: Unbelievers


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Today’s edition is brought to you by Vampire Weekend and features the Pentagon’s first department-wide audit, President Trump’s denial of his own administration’s climate change report, threats to campaign finance reform in New York State, some bad news for Facebook in Britain, and more.  WASHINGTON WATCH The Pentagon with Washington, DC in the background. Image credit: Department of Defense. The Pentagon just conducted the first department wide financial statement audit in its 200 plus years of existence. “Break out the champagne: Earlier this month, the Defense Department produced its first departmentwide financial statement audit. Ever. For an entity that traces its roots to 1789 and whose books have long been impenetrable to armies of auditors, even a failing grade is cause for positive recognition.” (Government Executive) How foreign money influences American elections and endangers democracy. “Foreign powers use three basic tools to interfere in democratic politics: cyber operations, disinformation and dark money. Thanks in part to Mueller’s indictments of members of Russia’s military intelligence agency(GRU) and the St. Petersburg troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, we have begun to address election-related cyber attacks and foreign disinformation. But when it comes to foreign dark money – money from unknown foreign sources – we remain woefully unprepared. The lack of transparency in our campaign finance system combined with extensive foreign money laundering creates a significant vulnerability for our democracy.” (POLITICO) The Heritage Foundation is reviving a controversial training program for judicial clerks. “The Heritage Foundation, a conservative group that has played a leading role in moving the courts to the right, is reviving a “federal judicial clerkship academy,” according to materials posted on Wednesday on the group’s website. The foundation canceled an earlier version of the program last month after an article in The New York Times raised questions about some of its features, including requirements that participants keep teaching materials secret and promise not to use what they learned ‘for any purpose contrary to the mission or interest of the Heritage Foundation.'” (New York Times) This company is flexing its lobbying muscles in an effort to stave off major repercussions tied to a water contamination scandal. “Chemical industry giant 3M is waging an aggressive campaign to stave off new regulations and potentially billions of dollars in damages stemming from a contamination crisis that has fouled tens of millions of Americans’ drinking water. The Minnesota-based company is putting its lobbying muscle to work in Washington and courting the support of state attorneys general as it faces potentially massive financial liability for toxic pollution linked to two of its nonstick and water repellent chemicals, which have turned up in the water supplies of more than 1,500 U.S. communities.” (POLITICO) TRUMPLAND Mar-a-Lago. The GAO will look into potentially inappropriate influence by Mar-a-Lago members over VA operations and contracts… “The Government Accountability Office will investigate whether members of Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida, improperly influenced the Department of Veterans Affairs, including over a $10 billion contract to modernize veterans’ health records, according to a letter from the watchdog office released by Democratic lawmakers Monday.” (POLITICO) …Meanwhile, the Trump administration is arguing that their influence doesn’t qualify for transparency under an advisory committee transparency law. “The Trump administration is defending the legality of having three Trump associates help steer the Department of Veterans Affairs from the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, asserting that a Watergate-era sunshine law on advisory committees shouldn’t apply. In a court filing last week, the government lawyers argued in part that the trio didn’t fit the law’s definition of an advisory committee because rather than being under the agency’s control, the three men reportedly wielded influence over the agency.” (Government Executive) President Trump’s response to a government report on dire economic consequences of climate change? Disbelief. “President Donald Trump dismissed U.S. government scientists’ predictions that climate change will impose devastating economic costs. ‘I don’t believe it,’ Trump told reporters Monday on the White House lawn, when asked about the grim forecast in the government’s National Climate Assessment.” (Bloomberg) President Trump’s family likely to face increased investigative pressure from Congress next year. “When two Republican members of Congress began formally questioning last week Ivanka Trump’s use of private email for government business, it was seen by people close to the White House as a sign of things to come for the president’s family…The Democrats are already laying out lines of inquiry that could quickly lead not just to Mr. Trump and his White House aides, but also to his immediate family. And Republicans returning to Capitol Hill next year may be forced by the changed political climate to take a harder line toward the Trump family.” (New York Times) A judge has rejected President Trump’s most recent effort to stop a New York State lawsuit against his personal charitable foundation. “President Donald Trump’s claim that a New York lawsuit against his personal charitable foundation was motivated by political bias of the state attorney general’s office was rejected by a judge. New York State Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla on Friday denied a request from Trump and his foundation to dismiss the suit in which the president and his three eldest children are accused of engaging in a decade-long pattern of self-dealing and using the nonprofit’s funds for political purposes.” (Bloomberg) STATES AND CITIES Image via Pixabay.  New York State Democrats have promised to close this massive campaign finance loophole, but will it prove too beneficial to their campaign coffers? “…a loophole in New York’s campaign finance law…for more than 20 years, has allowed corporations to create limited liability companies for the sole purpose of giving virtually unlimited amounts of money to candidates…The loophole’s existence is one reason critics call New York’s campaign finance laws among the weakest in the nation. The real estate industry in particular has made ample use of it. And Democrats, in their successful bid to recapture the State Senate for the first time in a decade, campaigned on a promise to close it. But even as they vowed to muzzle big money’s influence, they benefited from the same L.L.C. donations they were railing against.” (New York Times) Can technology make the civil court system more accessible? “Pew Charitable Trust wants to make the non-criminal legal system easier to navigate without lawyers, and technology is a key component to their plans. Modernizing civil courts at the state and local level has become increasingly important in a world where residents can handle their business online whether it’s to order takeout or pay property taxes. Yet the courts remain a relatively offline system that in large part demand physical attendance for sometimes procedural tasks.” (Government Technology) How one citizen with a Github account changed local law in Washington, DC. Josh Tauberer writes, “Recently, I found a typo in the District of Columbia’s legal code and corrected it using GitHub. My feat highlights the groundbreaking way the District manages its legal code. As a member of the DC Mayor’s Open Government Advisory Group, I was researching the law that establishes DC’s office of open government, which issues regulations and advisory opinions for the District’s open meetings law (OMA) and open records law (FOIA). The law was updated last month, and something seemed to have changed: there was no longer a reference to issuing advisory opinions for FOIA. Comparing the DC Code to the act that made the change, I noticed that something was amiss in section (d)…It had a typo…The District does something with its legal code that no other jurisdiction in the world does (to my knowledge): it publishes the law on GitHub…Last week, I opened the file on GitHub that had the typo, edited the file, and submitted my edit using GitHub’s ‘pull request’ feature.” (Ars Technica) AROUND THE WORLD Image via Pixabay. UK Parliament forces tech executive to hand over documents related to a court case with Facebook, upping the stakes for social media giant. “When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to appear before Britain’s parliament in May to answer questions about Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he may have assumed there would be few repercussions. But in an unprecedented move over the US Thanksgiving weekend, the British government used a little-known feature of UK law to compel a tech executive to hand over documents related to a court case between his company and Facebook. What’s more, the British MP who pushed parliament to do so is threatening to make all the documents public, even though they have been sealed by a US court.” (Columbia Journalism Review) Consumer groups in seven countries accuse Google of GDPR violations tied to location tracking. “Consumer agencies in the Netherlands, Poland and five other European Union countries asked privacy regulators on Tuesday to take action against Google for allegedly tracking the movements of millions of users in breach of the bloc’s new privacy law.  Google is already facing a lawsuit in the United States for allegedly tracking phone users regardless of privacy settings.” (Reuters) Pro-democracy opposition bloc fails to regain veto power in by-election. “Hong Kong’s pro-democracy bloc failed to regain its veto power in the city’s legislature after a pro-Beijing candidate won a by-election to represent a populous area of the financial hub. The candidate, Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan, took the final seat in the Kowloon West constituency with 106,457 votes — more than 13,000 ahead of her nearest opponent, Lee Cheuk Yan. The previous holder of the seat, Lau Siu-lai, was barred from running after she was removed from Hong Kong’s legislature along with five other lawmakers for improper oath-taking, triggering the by-election.” (Bloomberg) Czech prime minister survives no-confidence tied to fraud allegations, claims that he organized his son’s kidnapping. “The Czech Republic’s billionaire prime minister survived a non-confidence vote and defeated a challenge sparked by fraud allegations. Andrej Babis, who rose to power by attacking the political establishment and campaigning against Muslim refugees, has been facing a crescendo of calls for his ouster over investigations into his conduct as a businessman. The pressure escalated this month after his son claimed that he had been abducted to Crimea as his father tried to hide him from the probes.” (Bloomberg)   Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to We would love your feedback!