Today in OpenGov: Influential


In today's edition, the Senate shares its reports on Russia's social media manipulation, President Trump makes another move to avoid an emoluments suit against him, protests in Budapest and Belgrade, and more. 

washington watch

Facebook and Instagram ads related to the 2016 election.
  • Senate reports shed light on Russia's social media meddling… "The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day…The New Knowledge report is one of two commissioned by the Senate committee on a bipartisan basis. They are based largely on data about the Russian operations provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and the other companies whose platforms were used." (New York Times)
  • …The reports also detail tech company efforts to withhold or delay sharing of relevant data. "When lawmakers asked YouTube, a unit of Google, to provide information about Russian manipulation efforts, it did not disclose how many people watched the videos on its site that were created by Russian trolls. Facebook did not release the comments that its users made when they viewed Russian-generated content. And Twitter gave only scattered details about the Russian-controlled accounts that spread propaganda there. The tech companies’ foot-dragging was described in a pair of reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee published on Monday, in what were the most detailed accounts to date about how Russian agents have wielded social media against Americans in recent years." (New York Times)
  • Office of Congressional Ethics releases report on defeated Rep. Rod Blum, finds evidence that he misused resources. "The Office of Congressional Ethics released its report on allegations against Iowa Republican Rod Blum Monday, while the House Ethics Committee announced that it is continuing its own inquiry, but likely not for long. The House Ethics panel began the inquiry into Blum in July when it received a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics and extended the inquiry in early September. In February, the Associated Press reported that Blum violated House ethics rules by failing to disclose his ownership role in a new company and that his top federal staffer was featured in a false testimonial promoting the company’s services." The OCE's report backed up that story. (Roll Call)
  • Sen. Cory Booker plans legislation to bring transparency to relationships between big Pharma and state Medicaid decision makers. "Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.,  says he will introduce federal legislation this week that would require more transparency surrounding states’ Medicaid drug decisions. The bill comes in response to a recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NPR. The measure, known as the “Medicaid Drug Decisions Transparency Act,” would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose their payments to pharmacists and others who serve on state Medicaid drug boards. These boards help decide which drugs Medicaid patients will be able to access easily. Currently drugmakers must only disclose perks given to doctors, such as free dinners, speaking fees and consulting gigs." (Center for Public Integrity)


The Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House.
  • The Justice Department's latest effort to end or delay an emoluments suit against President Trump. "The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court on Monday to throw out or at least temporarily halt a lawsuit that accuses President Trump of illegally benefiting from his family’s business, seeking to block more than three dozen subpoenas for documents from the Trump Organization, the president’s trust and other entities. The department acted in response to recent rulings by a federal district judge in a lawsuit brought by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Trump has violated the Constitution’s anticorruption clauses, in part by accepting payments from foreign officials who patronize the Trump International Hotel, only blocks from the White House." (New York Times)
  • Ryan Zinke may be heading for the exits, but the investigations into his behavior aren't likely to end. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is leaving plenty of headaches for the White House on his way to the exits, as the probes into his policies and ethics scandals show every sign of continuing and Democrats vow to turn the spotlight onto his replacement…The fall of the former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL comes after more than a dozen probes into his use of public money and mixing of official, political and personal business. Interior’s in-house watchdog said Monday that it will keep pursuing the multiple investigations it has open into Zinke." (POLITICO)
  • ICE Detainees sue DHS over restricted access to legal counsel. "Three immigrants held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Southern California detention centers sued the Department of Homeland Security, claiming they’re being denied proper access to lawyers while they fight the government’s attempt to remove them. The men said in a complaint filed Dec. 14 in federal court in Riverside, California, that their ability to make telephone calls is severely restricted and that calls are prohibitively expensive, making it impossible for them to contact lawyers." (Bloomberg)
  • Listen Up! A conversation about the Trump's Manhattan money via NPR's 1A podcast.

around the world

December 15 protest against violence in Belgrade, Serbia. Photo by Vesna Radojević via Global Voices.
  • Protesters in Serbia gather to demand an end to violence against critics of the government. "Protests under the slogan “Stop to Bloody Shirts” continued in Belgrade on December 15, with an estimated 20,000 people demanding that the Serbian government stop the verbal and physical violence against its critics. The event organized by opposition parties mirrored the first protest against violence that took place a week earlier, prompted by a recent attack on a government critic whose shirt was literally bloodied after he was assaulted by pro-government thugs. But this time, almost twice as many people peacefully marched through the center of the capital, galvanized by several events that took place during the previous week." (Global Voices)
  • Anti-government protesters demonstrate for the fifth time this week in Hungary. "Anti-government protesters demonstrated in Hungary for the fifth time in less than a week, extending a string of rallies against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government. People gathered outside the headquarters of state television in Budapest Monday, where the public broadcaster rejected a demand by opposition lawmakers to read a petition on air a day earlier. The website estimated more than 1,000 had arrived, with more joining. The protests have become more tense, with security officers using tear gas each evening. Police said they would ensure public safety during the event." (Bloomberg)
  • A new report on ways that citizen generated data can help advance the Sustainable Development Goals. "We are pleased to announce the launch of our latest report Advancing Sustainability Together? Citizen-Generated Data and the Sustainable Development Goals. The research is the result of a collaboration with King’s College London, Public Data Lab and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. Citizen-generated data (CGD) expands what gets measured, how, and for what purpose. As the collection and engagement with CGD increases in relevance and visibility, public institutions can learn from existing initiatives about what CGD initiatives do, how they enable different forms of sense-making and how this may further progress around the Sustainable Development Goals." (Open Knowledge)
  • Did Sweden's financial regulator manipulate public documents related to a money laundering investigation? "Sweden’s Financial Supervisory Authority said claims in the media that it has manipulated public documents about money-laundering investigations are incorrect. An internal investigation by the financial regulator, in response to articles in Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, showed that it handled the documents the correct way, it said in a statement on Tuesday." (Bloomberg)


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