Today in OpenGov: First Things First


In today's edition, House Democrats unveil their first legislative priority as they prepare to take power in the 116th Congress, the GAO has probed President Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits but the reports aren't yet public, journalists face danger during French protests, and more. 

washington watch

The United States House of Representatives chamber. 
  • House Democrats put focus on ethics and campaign finance reform as they unveil first bill of 116th Congress. "House Democrats on Friday unveiled a sweeping reform proposal that would create automatic voter registration and enact campaign finance and ethics changes, the first bill they plan to push when they take charge of the chamber next year. The bill will receive the designation of H.R.1 in the next Congress, a sign of its importance to House leaders and to newly elected members who ran campaigns promising to clean up Washington. It is expected to receive early attention in the next Congress." (POLITICO)
  • With Congressional race result in limbo, North Carolina state election officials will investigate irregularities… "A North Carolina congressional election that a Republican appeared to have narrowly won is now in limbo as state elections officials investigate voting irregularities and questions about the handling of absentee ballots. On Friday, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement declined to certify the election results from the state’s Ninth Congressional District, where Mark Harris, a Republican and Southern Baptist preacher, led his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by 905 votes." (New York Times)
  • …Meanwhile, the Democratic chairman of the bipartisan state elections board has resigned to avoid partisan bias in the investigation. "The Democratic chairman of the state elections board in North Carolina resigned Saturday, saying he did not want his partisan views to undermine a widening investigation into alleged election fraud in the 9th Congressional District race." (Washington Post)
  • A Congressman-elect from Florida acknowledged that he may have violated campaign finance law with large loans. "Newly elected congressman Ross Spano has acknowledged that his campaign financing "may have been in violation" of federal law. In a filing with the Federal Elections Commission which Spano released publicly Saturday afternoon, he acknowledged borrowing $180,000 from two people he has described as personal friends from June through October this year, and then lending his campaign $167,000 in roughly the same time period…under federal campaign finance law, a loan made to a candidate with the intent of providing money for a campaign must be considered a campaign contribution, not the candidate's personal funds. Any such loan must adhere to campaign contribution limits — $2,700 each for the primary and general elections, far less than the loans Spano acknowledges having received." (Tampa Bay Times)
  • The House passed a bill that would give more power to the Federal Chief Information Officer. "The House on Friday unanimously passed a bipartisan bill to elevate the role of the federal government's chief information officer. The measure would establish a new line for reporting about information technology within the federal government, now instructing the federal chief information officer (CIO) — who oversees information technology throughout the administration — to report to the director of the Office of Management and Budget instead of the office’s deputy director." (The Hill)


The entrance to Mar-a-Lago.
  • The GAO probed issues related to security, visitor vetting for President Trump's frequent visits to Mar-a-Lago. So why aren't the reports public yet? "With President Donald Trump expected to spend the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Democrats are likely to revive their questions about the costs to taxpayers and potential security risks as he mingles with dues-paying members and guests. Some of the answers may be revealed in two reports from the Government Accountability Office that aren’t yet public…The watchdog agency has completed a 21-month review of security issues raised by Trump’s visits to the private club…But public release of the report titled 'Presidential Security: Vetting of Individuals and Secure Areas at Mar-a-Lago' has been blocked at least temporarily because it included information deemed sensitive by the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, according to the GAO." (Bloomberg)
  • What do one of President Trump's former top fund-raisers, a former Justice Department employee, a founding member of the Fugees, and a notorious Malaysian financier have in common? "Federal prosecutors cited the involvement of a onetime top fund-raiser to President Trump on Friday in a scheme to launder millions of dollars into the country to help a flamboyant Malaysian financier end a Justice Department investigation. Elliott Broidy, a Los Angeles-based businessman who was a finance vice chairman of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and inauguration committees, was paid to lobby the Trump administration to try to end an investigation related to the embezzlement of billions of dollars from a Malaysian state-owned fund, according to court filings made public on Friday." (New York Times)
  • Did Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker stay on the advisory board of a patent company even after learning of fraud claims against it? "Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker continued to sit on the advisory board of a now-shuttered patent company after learning of multiple claims of fraud made against it by disgruntled customers, documents released Friday show. Whitaker advised World Patent Market, the Florida based company, beginning in 2014 and was often sought out for legal advice by its CEO, who would add Whitaker onto email chains where customers had complained, the documents show." (CNN)
  • The latest Trump administration conflicts include Trump Tower Moscow, the Trump Foundation, Scott Pruitt, and more. As Lynn Walsh reports, "this week, new details emerge about the plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow, reports show investigations into Scott Pruitt, the former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have ended due to his resignation, and a judge has ruled the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit against the Trump Foundation can proceed." (Sunlight Foundation)

around the world

Image credit: Makana Eyre via CJR.
  • As protests spread across France, journalists find themselves in unexpected danger. "…dozens of incidents of violence and harassment against journalists covering the Yellow Vests across metropolitan France, and on the overseas island territory, Réunion. From interfering with live broadcasts, spitting on reporters, and calling them offensive names to at least one case of serious violence, these incidents have brought to light what Reporters Without Borders called, in a statement, 'a worrisome increase in mistrust of the media.'" (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Open Knowledge International has a new CEO. "Catherine Stihler has been appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer of Open Knowledge International. Catherine has years of experience in the creation and sharing of knowledge on the global stage. She will join the OKI team in February, and will stand down as an MEP at the end of January after an extraordinary career in EU policy-making spanning nearly 20 years. Catherine has served as an MEP for Scotland since 1999, where she lives with her husband and young children. In this role she has served as Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee and authored influential reports and opinions that have shaped EU policy." (Open Knowledge)
  • Israeli police recommend new corruption charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Police recommended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand trial for bribery in a third corruption case, delivering another blow to the embattled leader as his government barely clings to power. Israeli investigators said they had amassed more evidence that the prime minister traded influence for favors, this time in a case involving the country’s largest telecommunications carrier." (Bloomberg)
  • Tanzania's tilt towards violence and repression started with 2015 election. "Since 1961, Tanzania has been ruled by the same party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). While it has never been a democracy, Tanzania had been better known as a safari tourism destination and as a donor darling. How have things become so repressive so quickly? The answer lies in the 2015 election of John Magufuli as president. Since then, opposition politicians have been arrestedharassed and beatenTV offices have been raided and newspapers suspended. Regime critics — journalistsbusiness executivesopposition politiciansstudent leaders — have been kidnapped, forced into exile or assassinated by “unknown assailants.” Some have never been seen again. Much more violence outside Dar es Salaam hasn’t been reported, even in the Tanzanian press." (Washington Post)


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