Today in OpenGov: Retreat to Move Forward


In today's edition, reflecting on 9 years of Citizens United, Trump pet projects are thriving during the shutdown, uncovering a scandal surrounding the use of school childrens' data in the UK, and more. 

washington watch

Outside Spending in Midterm Elections. Chart via Open Secrets.Outside Spending in Midterm Elections. Chart via Open Secrets.
  • Reflecting on the Citizens United decision 9 years later. "Countless pundits and politicians decry the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling for making federal elections murkier than ever, but nine years later, the impact of the 2010 Supreme Court decision has never been clearer…In the election cycles following Citizens United, the balance of power has shifted more and more toward outside spending groups such as super PACs and 'dark money' political nonprofits, unleashing unprecedented amounts of money toward political advertisements meant to influence voters." (Open Secrets)
  • Library of Congress launches unified calendar for House and Senate hearings and markups. You can view the calendar here. Daniel Schuman shared more details and analysis on Twitter, noting that "Appropriators put the requirement into legislation last year (at our request). It's still a work in progress…"
  • Open data as a compliment to, not a substitute for, Freedom of Information. "…open data is not a substitute for a freedom of information law. Rather, it is a complement. As I told the Register, opening data won’t remove the need for an option to file suit under freedom of information laws.  There will always be people who try to prevent the public and press from learning of fraud, waste, incompetence or abuse of power. But instead of people being stymied trying access information they’ve already paid for, they’ll be able to find it through a search engine or apply it through an infomediary that reuses that data. Over time, opening data will generally reduce FOIA demand and save taxpayer money, as demonstrated by research that showed cities save time on recods requests." (E Pluribus Unum)
  • Google, Facebook, PhRMA set lobbying records in 2018. "The pharmaceutical industry's main trade group spent a record high amount of money on lobbying in 2018, according to disclosure reports released Tuesday. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent $27.5 million on lobbying, more than it ever has in a single year." (The Hill) "Google and Facebook Inc. set company records for annual lobbying spending in 2018 as Washington’s scrutiny of Big Tech intensified. Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit spent more than $21 million to influence Washington, according to federal disclosures…Facebook spent nearly $13 million on lobbying, the filings say, as it dealt with the fallout from privacy scandals…" (Bloomberg)
  • Netflix joins major Hollywood lobbying group. "Netflix has joined the Motion Picture Association of America as the streaming video giant rapidly expands the number of original television series and feature films it is producing around the globe, the association confirmed on Tuesday. The addition marks the first time an internet-based service will join the 97-year-old trade association, which represents six legacy Hollywood studios. The move will likely surprise many observers as the traditional media and tech industries have a longstanding and politically hostile feud over copyright protections." (POLITICO)


A restricted area around the White House.The White House.
  • As the government shutdown drags on, President Trump's pet projects are protected. "The Trump administration has recalled thousands of furloughed federal workers to process tax returns and continue work on offshore drilling permits. But programs that are out of favor with the White House — such as the Energy Star consumer ratings system — aren’t getting the same treatment. Across the government, initiatives that don’t align with President Donald Trump’s agenda are flickering off faster than favored ones during the partial government shutdown, leading critics to charge that he has weaponized the country’s longest funding lapse." (Bloomberg)
  • The shutdown is also impacting the federal government's ethics and accountability mechanisms. "As the current shutdown of the federal government has passed the threshold for the longest in American history, many federal services remain on hold, leaving thousands of federal workers and the Americans that rely on them in dire financial straits. This human cost is real and is being felt in real time in communities across the country. Sadly, this shutdown is also imposing significant costs on democratic institutions that are less easily measured. Each day this shutdown persists leaves these institutions a little bit weaker and allows the Trump administration to operate with even less accountability." (CREW)
  • President Trump told his press secretary "not to bother" with briefings while blaming the media… "President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he told White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders "not to bother" with press briefings anymore, and tried to blame the media for the increasingly rare events…Under the Trump administration, formal press briefings have become a rare occurrence, and are often marked with contentious exchanges and fewer questions." (POLITICO) …The White House Correspondents Association condemned Trump's statement, saying that "this retreat from transparency and accountability sets a terrible precedent…" (The Hill)
  • President Trump's is expected to name a former pharmaceutical lobbyist as his top domestic policy aide. "The White House is expected to soon name Joe Grogan as the next head of its Domestic Policy Council, two sources with knowledge of the decision told POLITICO. The move would elevate Grogan, a top Office of Management and Budget health care official and ally of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, to a role that could give him broad new influence over the Trump administration’s major policy priorities, including lowering drug prices and efforts to unwind Obamacare. Grogan has worked extensively on those issues at OMB alongside Mulvaney and HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Grogan, a former lobbyist for drug giant Gilead Sciences before joining OMB in 2017, has advanced plans rolling back parts of the Affordable Care Act through regulation and helped push through an initial series of reforms targeting pharmaceutical costs." (POLITICO)
  • The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to quickly review a decision blocking its Census citizenship question… "The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to bypass its normal procedures and decide quickly whether a question about citizenship can be placed on the 2020 Census. Last week, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman of New York ordered the administration to stop its plans to add the question to the survey." (Washington Post) …Meanwhile, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is expected to testify to Congress about the question. "Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has agreed to come before lawmakers again to testify about his controversial decision last year to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, is set to appear at a March 14 hearing on Capitol Hill before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the committee's chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., announced Tuesday." (NPR)

around the world

A January 19 rally in support of political prisoner Mehman Huseynov. Three days later, the prosecutors office announced it was dropping charges it had recently made against him. (Photo: Musavat Party. Used first on Eurasianet)A January 19 rally in support of political prisoner Mehman Huseynov. Three days later, the prosecutors office announced it was dropping charges it had recently made against him. Photo: Musavat Party via Global Voices.
  • Prosecutors drop controversial charges against Azerbaijani blogger. "Prosecutors have decided to drop criminal charges against an imprisoned blogger and activist, Mehman Huseynov, after President Ilham Aliyev ordered the blogger’s case to be reconsidered. The surprise termination of the new criminal case was announced on January 22 by the Azerbaijani General Prosecutor's Office. Mehman Huseynov, 26, is Azerbaijan’s best-known political blogger and is serving a two-year prison sentence on charges that he defamed police officers. He had been set to be released in March, but in late December the Azerbaijani authorities brought new charges against him, claiming that Huseynov had attacked a prison guard. Huseynov denied the new charges, which could have added several more years to his term, and started a hunger strike to call attention to his plight." (Global Voices)
  • How Freedom of Information software helped uncover a scandal surrounding the use of students' personal data in the UK. "What emerged was a timeline of requests and responses — sometimes hard fought for — which when pieced together reveal secrecy, bad practice and some outright falsehoods from the authorities to whom we entrust our children’s data. Perhaps most striking of the findings was the sharing of data with the Home Office in support of their Hostile Environment policy…It’s a long tale, but definitely worth the read." (mySociety)
  • Corruption in Latvia uncovered after recording of secret sauna conversations. "Obscured by pine trees and next to a secluded reservoir, a sauna cabin in Latvia may seem like a sufficiently isolated spot to hold a private meeting. The businessmen and politicians who made that assumption may now be sweating again. Clandestine recordings made by anti-corruption officers reportedly in the Taureni resort complex 20 kilometers (13 miles) from the capital, Riga, led to bribery charges against the central bank governor last year and resignations or suspensions of Riga officials over a rigged tender for a public transportation contract. While all deny any wrongdoing, the burning question in the tiny Baltic country is how many more conversations were listened to?" (Bloomberg)


Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to We would love your feedback!