Today in OpenGov: Power Grabs


In today's edition,  state lawmakers respond to election losses by limiting winners' power, a program plays matchmaker between agency data and civic innovators, documents shed light on power wielded by the VA's Mar-a-Lago overseers, a Filipino journalist turns herself in to government agents, and more. 

states and cities

The Michigan House of Representatives chamber.
  • The incoming Michigan Secretary of State wants to boost dark money disclosure. The State Senate wants to make doing so a crime. "By a vote of 25-12, the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate passed a bill on Nov. 29 that would make it a misdemeanor crime for public officials in Michigan to require nonprofit groups, including those that spend money on elections, to disclose their donors for government or public review. Under the bill, which is sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Shirkey, state and local agencies would no longer be allowed to request donor details from any 501(c) nonprofit without a warrant." (Sludge)
  • This year, Democrats won control of Governors mansions' in Wisconsin and Michigan. GOP legislatures are trying to limit their powers before they take office. "In recent years, single parties have come to dominate state legislatures, allowing lawmakers to make significant policy changes in states even as Washington wrestled with gridlock. But in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where Democrats regained governor’s offices in capitals that Republicans fully controlled for years, Republicans are making last-minute efforts to weaken their powers. It is a model pioneered in North Carolina, where Republican lawmakers in 2016 tried to restrict the power of the governor after a Democrat was narrowly elected to the post. That set off a bitter court battle that continues to this day." (New York Times)
  • Watchdog files complaint with IRS over a nonprofit's political spending to aid disgraced Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. "A government watchdog group has filed a complaint with the IRS, alleging that a nonprofit group violated its tax-exempt status through its involvement with former governor Eric Greitens’ campaign. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed the complaint. It says the nonprofit group Freedom Frontier violated its 501 (c) 4 status because more than half of its total spending went to political organizations—and by law, it’s not supposed to spend more than half of its funds on political causes…CREW alleges that Freedom Frontier gave $4.4 million to political organizations in 2016—and that accounted for nearly three-fourths of the group’s spending.  According to the watchdog agency, much of that contributed money was spent on ads in Missouri’s gubernatorial race, supporting Eric Greitens and attacking his opponents." (KSMU)
  • Tracking municipal securities transparency? This conference might be for you. From the SEC event website: "Join Chairman Clayton, SEC Commissioners, and the Office of Municipal Securities for a one-day conference focused on municipal securities disclosure. Municipal securities market participants can expect to hear about important developments, current trends in disclosure, and potential opportunities for regulatory and industry improvement." The conference will take place on Thursday, December 6th in Washington, DC. You can learn more and register to attend here. If you can't make it in person, don't worry. The event will be webcast. Editors note: Have an event you'd like us to highlight? Send the details or event page to and we'll do our best to include it in the roundup! 

washington watch

Screenshot from the Opportunity Project homepage.
  • This Census program is helping connect agency data with private organizations that want to use it to solve real world problems. "Federal agencies have lots of data which, if used right, could often be of great benefit to the citizens those agencies were created to serve. But figuring out exactly how to put that data to good use is no small task. For agencies with limited resources (read: all agencies), it can be difficult to find the time, expertise and budget to start new data programs. But the government’s biggest data collector, the Census Bureau, has a way to help. The bureau is preparing to accept submissions for the latest cohort in The Opportunity Project, or TOP, a free program that looks to connect federal agencies with lots of open data to private sector partners that can help them develop applications to solve real-world problems." (NextGov)
  • Embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) set to stand trial in September. "Rep. Duncan Hunter will face trial starting September 10, a federal judge in California said Monday. Hunter and his wife Margaret face 60 federal charges related to spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses such as family vacations and golf outings. The couple were indicted by a federal grand jury in late August for allegedly using campaign funds for personal expenses and trying to cover their tracks in campaign finance filings to the Federal Election Commission. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment days later." (Roll Call)
  • The National Archives' plans for retaining or destroying government records are attracting increased public attention amid controversies, ease of digital engagement. "Historically, records schedule notices — the mechanism by which the National Archive and Records Administration transmits agency plans to retain permanent records and dispose of temporary records — don't generate a lot of public attention…But recent comment totals for records disposition requests by the Department of the Interior and Immigration and Customs Enforcement suggest that public engagement with records management arcana could be changing in the digital age." (Federal Computer Week)
  • Early jockeying for presidential primary position has traditionally been opaque, but potential 2020 nominees are pulling back the curtain. "For decades, the most critical early stages of a presidential campaign unfolded largely out of public view, with candidates quietly courting financiers, party bosses and interest groups influential in the nominating process. But two years after President Donald Trump proved a candidate could flout traditional power structures and succeed — and with the 2020 campaign now picking up — the reign of the 'invisible primary' is in decline." (POLITICO)


The Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. 
  • Following judge's go-ahead, subpoenas are set to be issued in Trump emoluments case this week. "A federal judge on Monday said lawyers for Maryland and Washington, D.C., can begin issuing subpoenas in a lawsuit that accuses President Donald Trump of using his luxury hotel in Washington to unconstitutionally profit from his political office. The attorneys general in Maryland and Washington say they plan to serve as many as 20 companies and government agencies with subpoenas by midday Tuesday." (POLITICO)
  • Trio of Mar-a-Lago members wielded power over budgets, staffing, $10 billion contract at the VA according to newly released documents. "Newly released emails about the three Trump associates who secretly steered the Department of Veterans Affairs show how deeply the trio was involved in some of the agency’s most consequential matters, most notably a multibillion-dollar effort to overhaul electronic health records for millions of veterans. Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, West Palm Beach physician Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman — part of the president’s circle at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — reviewed a confidential draft of a $10 billion government contract for the electronic-records project, even though they lack any relevant expertise." (ProPublica)
  • Six White House employees reprimanded for Hatch Act violations. "Three months after an ethics nonprofit filed complaints, the Office of Special Counsel on Friday reported that it had reprimanded six Trump White House employees for violations of the Hatch Act. In a letter to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Office of Special Counsel’s deputy chief of its Hatch Act Unit revealed that six employees in the Trump White House had received reprimands for using their government Twitter accounts for partisan activity." (Government Executive)

around the world

The Rappler homepage on Tuesday morning.
  • Filipina journalist turns herself in on tax fraud charges, vowing to fight government attempt to "harass and intimidate" her organization. "Maria Ressa, the editor of Philippine online news website Rappler, has turned herself into the authorities on Monday after a warrant was issued for her arrest. Last month the government announced it was charging Ressa and Rappler with five counts of tax fraud, charges that Ressa said were trumped up in an attempt to 'harass and intimidate' the news organisation, which has been highly critical of president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration." (The Guardian)
  • Australia is poised to pass a law giving law enforcement access to encrypted messages. "Australia is set to pass legislation giving police and intelligence agencies access to encrypted messages on platforms such as WhatsApp, despite protests from civil libertarians and tech giants including Facebook Inc. and Google." (Bloomberg)
  • Canadian Supreme Court compels journalist to divulge source information in blow to press freedom. "The Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Friday against VICE Media and national security reporter Ben Makuch in their battle against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in a case that pitted the role of journalists against the role of police and prosecutors. The ruling compels Makuch and VICE to hand over any source material regarding Makuch's interviews with a Canadian man alleged to have joined ISIS. It's an outcome that was feared by press freedoms advocates, who have argued that such a ruling would be a blow to journalistic integrity in Canada." (Vice News)


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