Today in OpenGov: Jumping the shark?


In today's edition, a retiring lawmaker may have jumped the shark when setting up her new lobbying firm, we take a look at the latest Trump administration conflicts, a democratic movement in Hong Kong struggles, and more. 

washington watch

  • The FBI is investigating millions of fake comments on the FCC's net neutrality rules. "The Justice Department is investigating whether crimes were committed when potentially millions of people’s identities were posted to the FCC’s website without their permission, falsely attributing to them opinions about net neutrality rules, BuzzFeed News has learned. Two organizations told BuzzFeed News, each on condition that they not be named, that the FBI delivered subpoenas to them related to the comments." (BuzzFeed)
  • Will Congress revive the Office of Technology Assessment in 2019? "The Office of Technology Assessment could make a comeback in 2019. From 1972 to 1995, the Congressional office provided scientific and technological advice to lawmakers, penning more than 750 studies and, at its peak, supporting 140 staffers with a budget exceeding $30 million in today's dollars. When Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, the office became a casualty of Republican cost-cutting…What's changed? Many observers, including former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, think the dismal performance of lawmakers at 2018 hearings probing Facebook's use and abuse of profile data served as a wake-up call that Congress needs more in-house technical expertise." (Federal Computer Week) We sure hope so! To learn more about the OTA and ongoing efforts to revive it check out Future Congress, an effort we're proud to support.
  • Most people that run for Congress are rich, but some rules make it easier to do if you're broke. "What if you want to run for Congress but are broke, or young and saddled with thousands of dollars of student loans? You’re entering a realm where the campaign with the most money usually wins. Being rich also means you likely know other rich people who can write big checks to your campaign. And no public financing program exists — like on the presidential level and in some states — to help congressional political prospects with big brains and full hearts … but empty wallets. Here are several ways pauper politicos can subsist and keep themselves solvent when campaigning becomes their full-time gig…" (Center for Public Integrity)
  • A Harvard hosted orientation for incoming members of Congress faces criticism for featuring lobbyists and corporate executives over community groups and labor representatives. "A prestigious, 50-year-old orientation for new members of Congress at Harvard University predicated on the virtues of bipartisanship and civility has drawn intense criticism this week for the presence of lobbyists and business executives — evidence of the growing influence of the left wing of the Democratic Party that has abstained from corporate PAC money." (Roll Call)
  • This retiring member of Congress was so excited to start her new career as a lobbyist that she registered her business months before her last day as a Representative. "Lynn Jenkins hasn’t left Congress yet, but the Kansas Republican has already launched a new lobbying firm. Jenkins’ term in the U.S. House doesn’t officially end until the first week of January and she still faces major votes on the farm bill, homeland security budget and other legislation. But her new business, LJ Strategies, LLC, has already registered with the state of Kansas. Ethics watchdogs say the situation makes a mockery of the rules restricting lawmakers from working as lobbyists until they’ve been out of office for at least one year." (Kansas City Star)


  • The latest Trump administration conflicts include emoluments subpoenas, Donald Trump Jr.'s lettuce company, Saudi lobbyist's hotel stays, and more. Lynn Walsh latest look at Trumpland conflicts of interest include revelations that "Saudi-funded lobbyists paid for rooms for military veterans at President Donald Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel, Donald Trump Jr. invested in a hydroponic lettuce company while the company’s co-chairman sought federal support for other business interests and subpoenas are beginning to be issued in the emoluments lawsuit against the president." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • How Jared Kushner became Saudi Arabia's friend in the White House. "Senior American officials were worried. Since the early months of the Trump administration, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, had been having private, informal conversations with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s king. Given Mr. Kushner’s political inexperience, the private exchanges could make him susceptible to Saudi manipulation, said three former senior American officials…The exchanges continued even after the Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was ambushed and dismembered by Saudi agents, according to two former senior American officials and the two people briefed by the Saudis." (New York Times)
  • Watchdog groups file complaint with FEC over coordination between the NRA and the Trump campaign. "Donald Trump’s presidential campaign may have illegally coordinated with the National Rifle Association in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election, two watchdog groups said in a complaint filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action and its political action committee, the NRA Political Victory Fund, placed $25 million worth of television ads through the same ad-buying executives who also arranged spots for Trump’s campaign." (Bloomberg)
  • Guidance supporting transgender federal employees removed from OPM website. "The Trump administration has removed from its personnel website guidance for all federal agencies to follow regarding transgender employees, and with the deletion has implemented new policies for transitioning workers. The removal of the policy, which the Office of Personnel Management previously issued to 'address some of the common questions that agencies have raised…with regard to the employment of transgender individuals in the federal workplace,' took place in late November. It is still viewable via the Internet Archive’s 'wayback machine,' but is no longer on OPM’s Diversity and Inclusion site." (Government Executive)
  • Newly reconstituted National Parks System Advisory Board features three major GOP donors, no bipartisan balance. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has resurrected a federally chartered board that advises the National Park Service with his own appointees, nearly a year after most of its former members resigned in frustration. The newly reconstituted National Park System Advisory Board — composed largely of current or retired business executives…includes a California winemaker, a beer distributor in Texas and three veterans of the real estate and home-building industry. All of the 11 new members appear to be white, and nine of them are men. Public records show all of the new board members are either registered Republicans or have voted repeatedly in GOP primaries…The new group includes three big-dollar donors who have each contributed more than $500,000 to GOP candidates and causes since the 2008 election cycle." (Washington Post)

around the world

The situation for democracy in Hong Kong has only gotten worse since 2014's "Umbrella Movement." Image credit: Pasu Au Yeung.
  • Democracy is dying in Hong Kong. Jeffrey Wasserstrom describes the increasingly untenable position of democracy and democratic activists in Hong Kong…"I was saddened by the news that three organizers of Occupy Central With Peace and Love, the 2014 struggle that morphed over time into the Umbrella Movement, are going on trial. The trio—two senior professors and a 74-year-old reverend—simply called for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience of the sort that were supposed to be acceptable in a “one country, two systems” framework. Yet their case remains under the radar for many people I know, and seems likely to end with them being sentenced to seven years in prison." (The Atlantic)
  • How to keep track of political office-holders around the world and ensure that the data is up-to-date and high quality. "Wikidata now has up-to-date and consistent data on political position holders in current national legislatures for at least 39 countries (and work in progress for over 60 countries), thanks to work by volunteer community members on the Wikiproject every politician. mySociety worked as part of this project with a Wikimedia Foundation grant in 2017-18. There is now a real possibility for Wikidata to become the definitive source of data about democracies worldwide — but only if that data can be maintained sustainably. A significant risk is that elections and other major political changes quickly render data on political position holders and legislatures in Wikidata out-of-date." (mySociety)
  • A major lobbying push is threatening the EU's consumer protection principles. "Europe's most hallowed principle of consumer protection is under siege after a big lobbying push by an organization representing the likes of U.S. oil giant Chevron and German chemical powerhouse BASF. Since the early 1990s, Brussels has used the “precautionary principle” as its guiding light to regulate products ranging from paint strippers to driverless cars and genetically modified crops. Washington has long condemned this EU framework as a form of protectionism that allows policy makers to err on the side of caution to protect the public and avoid environmental damage when the science is still in doubt. Now, some of the world's traditional heavy manufacturing industries are trying to introduce a new way of thinking into the game through a competing philosophy: the innovation principle. The intention is to grant companies broader leeway to bring products to market because of their significance as a scientific advance." (POLITICO)


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