In today's edition, the state of the union of open data looks strong, Missouri's sunshine law is obscured by clouds, hate speech and press freedom are major issues in Nigeria's upcoming election, Michael Cohen is afraid to testify to Congress, and more.
Today's subject line was inspired by NPR's reporting on Juul Labs' move to boost its lobbying presence in Washington.
- In 2018 midterms, liberal dark money groups outspent conservative ones for first time. "The 2018 midterm election marked the first time liberal dark money groups outspent their conservative counterparts since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January 2010, according to an Issue One analysis of data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Combined, dark money groups spent approximately $150 million during the 2018 election cycle, with liberal dark money groups accounting for about 54 percent of that sum. At the same time, conservative dark money groups accounted for about 31 percent of all dark money spending, and groups classified as bipartisan or nonpartisan accounted for about 15 percent." (Issue One)
- The State of the Union of Open Data is strong, according to new report. "This year, the third edition of the Data Foundation’s State of the Union of Open Data surveyed leaders in the open data world about the state of play in terms of data standardization; publication and sharing; and, finally, use—the all-important role of open data in supporting decisions and gleaning insights that would otherwise not be available. Almost uniformly—and more than in past years of our survey—the experts we surveyed saw forward progress." (Data Foundation)
- This Congressman sits on the board of his family's company while being well positioned to boost its interests in Washington. "A Kentucky congressman is a board member of his family’s auto components business, and he’s in a position to influence federal policy that could help that company’s interests. Republican Brett Guthrie, who has represented Kentucky’s 2nd District since 2009, is an uncompensated board member of Trace Die Cast, a company that makes aluminum-based engine, transmission, and driveline components for the automotive industry. He has as much as $10.5 million invested in the company through equity and trusts." (Sludge)
- This liquor store magnate turned member of Congress is looking to change the constitution to boost his business. "David Trone was elected in 2018 to fill the seat of John Delaney…with the assistance of $14.2 million in self-funded contributions and another $3.25 million in personal loans. This available fortune was generated from Trone’s personal alcoholic beverage empire. Total Wine, which Trone co-founded with his brother, is America’s largest privately owned retailer of beer, wine, and liquor, with 193 stores in 23 states…Total Wine is currently embroiled in a Supreme Court case that challenges the 21st Amendment…[and] is a stalking horse for the question of whether states have the right to regulate alcohol sales within their borders." (The Intercept)
- The 2020 Census faces many challenges, regardless of the outcome of lawsuits over a potential citizenship question. "Whether the 2020 count features a question about citizenship will likely fall to the U.S. Supreme Court—maybe even before an appeals court takes up the case, if the Department of Justice gets its way. Any decision will come too late for leaders responsible for preparing for a census that already faces unique challenges. Some of those obstacles have nothing to do with the lofty constitutional questions before the court—from the tech uptake associated with putting the census online for the first time to the task of hiring more than half a million census takers in a strong economy. With the federal government stuck in shutdown mode and the central question hanging over the count lost in legal limbo, city leaders have little choice but to brace for chaos." (CityLab)
states and cities
- New analytics tool will help cities understand bike and pedestrian traffic. "Cyclists and pedestrians may make up just a fraction of the activity on many city streets, but their presence is getting easier to measure and plan for. StreetLight Data, which provides transportation analytics to both public-sector agencies and some private companies, has developed a new tool to measure cycling and walking activity. Much like its other data analytics tools, StreetLight Data examines publicly available location and movement data from mobile phones to get an understanding of the different modes of travel on streets, bikeways and other routes." (Government Technology)
- The Missouri legislature voted to ignore the will of the voters and exempt themselves from state Sunshine Laws. "On Tuesday, the Missouri House, controlled by a veto-proof Republican majority, voted to establish a new rule that would allow elected representatives to keep their records shielded from prying eyes. This follows a November vote in the state in which 62 percent of Missourians enshrined into the state’s constitution a new provision that applies the Sunshine Law to state lawmakers. In effect, House Republicans raised their collective middle fingers and pointed them at voters." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) We were very disappointed to see this. Elected government officials must be accountable to their constituents and Missourians have made themselves clear. The ethics reforms in "Clean Missouri" have been endorsed by voters & must be honored as law.
- Colorado law enforcement agencies are increasingly encrypting all of their communications, leaving the press in the dark. "Colorado journalists on the crime beat are increasingly in the dark. More than two-dozen law enforcement agencies statewide have encrypted all of their radio communications, not just those related to surveillance or a special or sensitive operation. That means journalists and others can’t listen in using a scanner or smartphone app to learn about routine police calls." (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Did this political group that backed Michigan's new governor violate federal law? "Progressive Advocacy Trust (PAT), a Michigan-based political committee, appears to have violated federal law by failing to notify the IRS of its status as a political organization, according to a complaint filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). PAT appears to have improperly failed to report contributions it received and expenditures it made in 2018, meaning the true source of the more than two million dollars PAT gave to groups that ran advertisements during the 2018 election supporting now-Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is unknown." (CREW)
around the world
- Venezuelans take to the streets in support as opposition leader Juan Guaidó swears himself in as acting president… "As we write this story, people are gathering in large numbers in major cities like Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, and the capital Caracas, as well as smaller towns. The rallies were called by Juan Guaidó, the new president of the country's opposition-controlled National Assembly, who earlier this month publicly denounced Maduro's legitimacy and proposed to invoke an article of the 1999 constitution that would install a transitional government with Guaidó as president. Speaking at a protest in Caracas this afternoon, Guaidó swore himself in as the acting president of Venezuela." (Global Voices)
- …Meanwhile, the Trump administration is ignoring an order from President Nicolás Maduro for American diplomats to leave the country after U.S. recognition of Guaidó. "President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela faced the most direct challenge to his hold on power on Wednesday, when an opposition leader stood in the streets of the capital and declared himself the legitimate president, cheered on by thousands of supporters and a growing number of governments, including the Trump administration. Mr. Maduro responded furiously by cutting diplomatic ties with the United States. He gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, ordering them out with a derisive “be gone!” and accusing the Trump administration of plotting to overthrow him. The United States said it would ignore the deadline." (New York Times)
- Hate speech and press freedom are among the key issues in Nigeria's upcoming presidential election. "Nigeria will hold a presidential election on February 16, 2019, and all eyes are on this election as a test to prove the strength of Nigeria's democratic norms, values and unity…Amid the cacophony of electoral campaigns and the attendant passion from supporters — both online and offline — here are the key issues that may get lost in the noise." (Global Voices)
- The EU is looking to crack down on "golden visas" for investors over money-laundering and security concerns. "The European Union sounded the alarm on so-called “golden visas,” saying the practice of granting residence to foreigners in return for investments exposes the bloc to money-laundering and security risks. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said it will intensify the scrutiny of such schemes to make sure that standards on transparency and governance are upheld. The problem is especially pronounced in Cyprus, Malta and Bulgaria, where individuals have been able to obtain an EU passport for investments starting at 800,000 euros, the commission said in a report." (Bloomberg)
- Michael Cohen has indefinitely postponed his House testimony, citing threats from President Trump. "Michael D. Cohen, the former personal lawyer and fixer for President Trump, indefinitely postponed his congressional testimony set for next month, his lawyer said on Wednesday, depriving House Democrats of one of their first big spectacles in their plans to aggressively investigate the Trump administration. Mr. Cohen’s lawyer Lanny J. Davis cited verbal attacks from Mr. Trump, who had begun suggesting after Mr. Cohen agreed to testify that one of his relatives be investigated for unspecified crimes." (New York Times)
- Staffers at the United States Citizen and Immigration Services were warned against leaks, contact with journalists. "United States Citizenship and Immigration Services staffers were warned Wednesday that the 'unauthorized release' of internal information to the public could risk 'harm' to government operations and 'threaten' the safety of the American public and law enforcement, according to an email sent to the staff and reviewed by BuzzFeed News. The directive was released in a staffwide email that was titled 'unauthorized release of information…' Staffers were also told that only public affairs officers were authorized to speak to the media and to contact management should they be approached by media members." (BuzzFeed)
- As House Democrats begin to roll out their initial oversight moves, the Foreign Affairs Committee will look at Trump's emolumental issues. "House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel said Wednesday he plans to investigate whether President Donald Trump's businesses are driving foreign policy decisions, including whether Trump violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution in the process. Engel told CNN that examining the President's business ties is one of his priorities on the committee, one of numerous House panels now led by Democrats that will probe the President's private businesses and finances." (CNN)
- Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joins rapidly growing lobbying firm with close Trump ties. "Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi has joined Ballard Partners, a lobbying firm led by a lawyer with ties to President Trump whose Washington operations have expanded significantly since Trump arrived in the White House. Just last week, the firm announced it was hiring former deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah to help launch a new media group." (Washington Post)
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