Today in OpenGov: A Do Nothing Committee?


In today's edition, the Senate Ethics Committee doesn't get up to much, a California sheriff faces a lawsuit for blocking activists on social media, former U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley cashes in on the speaking circuit, and more. 

washington watch

The Senate Ethics Committee website.The Senate Ethics Committee…has a website.
  • Did the Senate Ethics Committee do anything last year? Not really. "The Senate Ethics Committee, mostly known for how little action it takes, received 138 reports of violations of Senate rules in 2018, with zero resulting in a disciplinary sanction. The committee has rarely taken action in recent years, and punishments are even more scarce. The ethics panel has jurisdiction over formal allegations of violations of the Senate Code of Official Conduct and violations of the rules and regulations of the Senate. It also has the authority to recommend disciplinary action and report violations of law to law enforcement." (Roll Call)
  • Two terabytes of data related to Enron are missing from the Web and it's unclear why. "Government investigations into California’s electricity shortage, ultimately determined to be caused by intentional market manipulations and capped retail electricity prices by the now infamous Enron Corporation, resulted in terabytes of information being collected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This included several extremely large databases, some of which had nearly 200 million rows of data, including Enron’s bidding and price processes, their trading and risk management systems, emails, audio recordings, and nearly 100,000 additional documents. That information has quietly disappeared, and not even its custodians seem to know why." (MuckRock)
  • More than 1/3 of the members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce hold investments in fossil fuel companies. "The House Committee on Energy and Commerce oversees environmental protection, clean air, climate change, energy policy, and drinking water safety. But many of its members appear heavily conflicted: nearly half are personally invested in companies that produce, distribute, or facilitate the distribution of oil, gas, and coal—fossil fuels that are among the biggest threats to the health of the planet and the future of the human species.  A Sludge analysis of financial documents has found that 22 of the 55 members of the 116th Congress’ Energy and Commerce Committee have disclosed investments in fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, and Chevron worth as much as $15.6 million." (Sludge)
  • This Senator wants to shed light on the money behind politically motivated amicus briefs. "Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told the Supreme Court that he intends to introduce legislation this year meant to shed light on the funding behind groups that frequently file briefs aimed at influencing the outcome of high-profile cases. The Rhode Island Democrat often decries how high-dollar, dark money donations can be funneled through advocacy groups to anonymously press political agendas through the Supreme Court and lower appeals courts — what he dubs 'judicial lobbying efforts.' This month, Whitehouse sent draft legislation to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. along with his concerns that the Supreme Court is not fairly enforcing a high court rule that prohibits someone from filing a brief known as an amicus curiae when contributors to the effort are anonymous." (Roll Call)

states and cities

Social media block.
  • The ACLU is suing a California sheriff for blocking Black Lives Matter activists on Facebook. "The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Northern California filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing a Sacramento sheriff of unlawfully blocking Black Lives Matter leaders from his official Facebook page. According to the ACLU, two Black Lives Matter Sacramento leaders were blocked by Sheriff Scott Jones on Facebook after Jones refused to investigate the death of Mikel McIntyre, who was killed by Sacramento deputies in 2017. This past fall, Jones posted on his official Facebook page to seek support, but was met with criticism which prompted him to block BLM leaders Tanya Faison and Sonia Lewis." (The Verge)
  • Inside the Tennessee Legislature's worrying move to ban its members from livestreaming public meetings. "At a moment when the public has become more connected to our representatives in government in more ways than every before, it might seem out of step with the current of history for a state legislature ban livestreaming public meetings. And yet, The Tennessean reports that committee chairmen in the Tennessee legislature are banning livestreaming during public meetings…Here’s the wrinkle: The legislature has decided to ban members from livestreaming themselves in committee hearings, if the chairmen decide to enforce the news rules, and, more problematically, members of legislature and the public from doing so in the House chamber." (E Pluribus Unum)
  • An Indiana state senator who wants to repeal the state's child labor law just happens to own a business that employs lots of minors. "Critics are accusing an Indiana state senator proposing to roll back the state's child labor laws of a potential conflict of interest because the lawmaker employs hundreds of minors at his business. State Sen. Chip Perfect (R), the CEO of Perfect North Slopes ski resort, filed a Senate bill to scrap the laws that bar minors from working more than a set amount of time or late hours without parental consent. Opponents of the bill, including educators and labor unions, say that changing the policy would allow Perfect North Slopes to employ more minors and keep them working late hours without work permits signed by parents." (The Hill)
  • Across the country, prisons are quietly building up databases of incarcerated people's voices. "In New York and other states across the country, authorities are acquiring technology to extract and digitize the voices of incarcerated people into unique biometric signatures, known as voice prints. Prison authorities have quietly enrolled hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people’s voice prints into large-scale biometric databases. Computer algorithms then draw on these databases to identify the voices taking part in a call and to search for other calls in which the voices of interest are detected. " (The Intercept)


Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, giving a speech while she was still Governor of South Carolina. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, giving a speech while she was still Governor of South Carolina. Via Wikipedia.
  • Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is cashing in on the speaking circuit to the tune of $200,000 per speech… "Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is currently quoting $200,000 and the use of a private jet for domestic speaking engagements, according to seven people with knowledge of the arrangement, who spoke on condition of anonymity because such quotes aren't made publicly available. Engagements outside the United States could cost considerably more, these people said." (CNBC)
  • …Big speaking fees are tempting, but risky for those with future political ambitions. "And that’s really the cautionary tale here. Even if you set aside the objections to taking an annual salary’s worth of pay for one speech, there’s the matter of what you said in that speech. There’s the matter of how those groups that paid you might come to be viewed. And the potential unintended consequences only increase as the years pass…Biden has sought to guard against this by avoiding speeches to banks or other interest groups and by focusing on groups that are insulated from corporate influence. Haley’s choices of venues will be of-interest should she remain a political presence, too." (Washington Post)
  • President Trump says he'll let Justice Department decide how to handle final special counsel report. "President Trump said on Wednesday that he would not intervene with the Justice Department’s decision-making process about whether to release the report by the special counsel investigating possible collusion with Russian officials in the 2016 campaign." (New York Times)
  • This lobbyist avoided influencing the White House…until his wife took a job there. "Last Wednesday, American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp made sure that his more than 90,000 Twitter followers knew he had insider access to the Trump White House…Though Schlapp has been registered to lobby under the Cove Strategies banner since 2009, it was only recently that he was listed on Cove lobbying reports involving White House contacts. In fact, Schlapp,  who had lobbied the Bush White House for Koch Industries, was never listed on any Cove lobbying reports listing EOP contacts until the fourth quarter of 2017, which happens to be the first full quarter in which his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, was working in the Trump White House." (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington)


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