Today in OpenGov: Walk it Back


In today's edition, examining the shutdown's impact on transparency and accountability, Rudy Giuliani makes — and walks back — some shocking comments, Arizona lawmakers have conflicting plans for state elections, bipartisan campaign finance legislation is reintroduced in the House, and more. 

shutdown stories

Image via Pixabay.Image via Pixabay.
  • People are crowdfunding support for furloughed federal employees during the shutdown. Does that violate ethics rules? "Furloughed federal employees who are using GoFundMe and other social media to raise money because they are not being paid are likely violating ethics rules and could face punishment when the government reopens, experts say. But one reason no one knows for sure how ethics rules apply to the 800,000 federal employees not getting paid is that the Office of Government Ethics, the primary source of such guidance, is one of the agencies that is closed." (USA Today)
  • Data delays are likely to compound the economic impact of the shutdown. "It's probably not the first thing that pops into one's mind when asked to name a couple of the biggest impacts the shutdown has on the economy. You might think airline travel or the national park system. But one of the biggest economic effects has to do with information, research that the federal government produces monthly or quarterly." (NPR)
  • The shutdown's impact on accountability and transparency is significant. "There has been a great deal of focus on the impact of the shutdown on the approximately 800,000 federal employees out of work or working without pay, and the loss of government services and programs that many people rely on. That focus is appropriate, as the personal cost to families is staggering as they struggle to pay for their mortgage, groceries, utility bills, tuition, and more. Millions of Americans face hardships as economic ripples from the shutdown expand and more critical government support programs are suspended. In addition, the shutdown is exacting a significant toll on programs that help keep the government honest, transparent, and accountable. These aspects of the shutdown often get less attention, likely because they seem more removed from the public’s immediate concerns, but in reality these important offices and functions exist to serve the public’s interest." (Project on Government Oversight)


Rudy Giuliani, who is currently acting as President Trump's personal lawyer. Rudy Giuliani, who is currently acting as President Trump's personal lawyer. 
  • Rudy Giuliani suggested that President Trump was involved in discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow through the end of the 2016 campaign… "President Trump was involved in discussions to build a skyscraper in Moscow throughout the entire 2016 presidential campaign, his personal lawyer said on Sunday, a longer and more significant role for Mr. Trump than he had previously acknowledged." (New York Times)…But he quickly walked those comments back, calling them "hypothetical." "Rudy Giuliani on Monday walked back statements he made this weekend concerning potential conversations between then-candidate Donald Trump and Michael Cohen about plans to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow ahead of the 2016 presidential election…Giuliani sought to retract those remarks in a statement to reporters Monday." (POLITICO)
  • President Trump's campaign and the GOP have a plan to compete with Democrats on small dollar donations in the 2020 elections. "President Donald Trump’s political team and top Republican officials have reached a landmark agreement to reshape the party’s fundraising apparatus and close the financial gap that devastated them in the midterms. With the deal, Republicans hope to create a rival to ActBlue, the Democratic online fundraising behemoth that plowed over $700 million in small-dollar donations into Democratic coffers in the 2018 campaign…Following weeks of closed-door discussions, Republicans have agreed to create a new platform dubbed Patriot Pass, which will be used to cultivate and process online donations." (POLITICO)
  • In its push to rollback regulations, the Trump administration has regularly ignored public feedback requirements under the Administrative Procedure Act. "Ever since President Trump took office, his appointees have directed federal agencies to draft regulations meant to delay or reverse policies of the Obama administration. Nearly all the proposals have been tripped up by the same arcane 1946 law governing administrative policies…That law, the Administrative Procedure Act, was written to make sure that the executive branch followed some basic steps when it wanted to change policies. Over time, courts have given it additional teeth by requiring regulators to follow certain processes and conduct certain analyses before making changes. The Trump administration appears to have repeatedly failed to hew to those standards." (New York Times)
  • During his first two years in office, President Trump made 8,158 false or misleading claims. "Two years after taking the oath of office, President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading claims, according to The Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president. That includes an astonishing 6,000-plus such claims in the president’s second year." (Washington Post)
  • The latest Trump administration conflicts include ignored emolumental questions, confusion around Michael Cohen's lies to Congress, and more. Lynn Walsh has the latest roundup of Trump conflicts including "a new report says the General Services Administration “ignored” constitutional questions when allowing the lease of the Old Post Office to move forward, T-Mobile executives reserved rooms at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. as it was announcing merger plans that would require Trump Administration approval and questions about whether President Donald Trump told his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress." (Sunlight Foundation)

states and cities

Arizona Representative Reginald Bolding describes a proposed House resolution creating a voters' bill of rights at a January 17 news conference.Arizona Representative Reginald Bolding describes a proposed House resolution creating a voters' bill of rights at a January 17 news conference. Image credit: Joseph Flaherty.
  • Arizona lawmakers release conflicting proposals around voting rights and elections. "A battle is underway for the future of voting rights in Arizona, featuring liberal lawmakers who want to expand voting opportunities fighting with conservatives who seek to add new restrictions. Democratic legislators unveiled a House resolution on Thursday that would create an 'Arizona voters bill of rights,' and promised legislation to expand access to the ballot. At the same time, Republicans, who are in the majority, filed a flurry of bills during the first days of the legislative session that could make it more difficult for people to vote." (Phoenix New Times)
  • Connecticut looks to include quasi-public agencies in transparency and oversight efforts. "For years, quasi-government agencies have operated under grey areas in oversight and accountability. After a number of reports of embezzlement, financial malpractice, and misuse of funds, state governments have started to keep a close watch on them. In Utah, a 2014 audit into the Utah Transit Authority revealed major discrepancies within the agency…In Connecticut, state officials are hoping to get ahead of disastrous situations like those of the UTA. In doing so, the state launched OpenConnecticut, an online portal that opens the state’s books and allows all Connecticut residents to access and monitor the state’s financial data, including checkbook-level payment information updated annually…Open Connecticut includes quasi-public agencies after Lembo sent out a call to them to voluntarily provide checkbook-level data annually." (MuckRock)
  • Florida's new governor makes changes to Palm Beach County elections following controversial recount. "Susan Bucher, the supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County, Fla., was suspended on Friday by the state’s new governor, Ron DeSantis, after problems in her county contributed to chaos during the state’s midterm election recount. In an executive order, Gov. DeSantis said that Ms. Bucher had demonstrated incompetence and neglect of duty, resulting in systemic problems that prevented Palm Beach County from completing a state-mandated recount until Dec. 26." (New York Times)

washington watch 

Image via Issue One.Image via Issue One.
  • Bipartisan campaign finance legislation is reintroduced in the House. "Thursday, Representatives Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) — three co-chairs of the Congressional Reformers Caucus — reintroduced the Political Accountability and Transparency Act (H.R. 679). The bipartisan legislation lays a solid foundation for ensuring the public knows who is trying to influence their vote in elections and preventing lawmakers from abusing leadership PAC funds." (Issue One)
  • Top officials at the National Credit Union Administration face scrutiny over extravagant expenses. "They are federal financial regulators who filed for expenses like corporate CEOs, seeking reimbursement for limos, deluxe air travel and meals in posh restaurants…J. Mark McWatters, head of the National Credit Union Administration, and his chief of staff, Sarah Vega, and their guests also showed a fondness for wine and top-shelf liquor, including, in one instance, a $45 glass of 18-year-old single-malt whisky, records show. In 2016 and 2017, they expensed more than $2,500 worth of alcoholic beverages — most of it under Vega’s account — despite a written policy prohibiting reimbursement for the purchase of alcohol." (Washington Post)
  • The Justice Department's opinion on online gambling recently moved closer to that of Casino mogul and megadonor Sheldon Adelson. "The legal reasoning behind the Justice Department’s unusual reversal this week of an opinion that paved the way for online gambling hewed closely to arguments made by lobbyists for casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson." (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Department of Health and Human Services is seeing if federal data and AI can combine to fight disease. "Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services think they now have a way to combine the power of artificial intelligence with public data to make it easier for patients to find cutting-edge treatments for complex diseases. Officials from the HHS Office of the Chief Technology Officer said Thursday they have completed a 14-week project — dubbed The Opportunity Project (TOP) Health tech sprint — that blended open federal data with AI technology to streamline research, better identify new treatments and disseminate new information on conditions like cancer and Lyme disease." (FedScoop)


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