Today in OpenGov: The Buck Stops Where?


In today's edition, President Trump passes the buck, Missouri's newest Senator faces open records questions from his time in state government, 2020 presidential hopefuls scramble to spurn big money, and more. 


Entrance to Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, New Jersey, August 9, 2017. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Ekem)Entrance to Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, New Jersey, August 9, 2017. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Ekem.
  • President Trump declined to commit to making the final Mueller report public in an interview Sunday. "President Trump would not commit in an interview aired Sunday to making public the results of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s ties to his campaign, adding that it was time to 'get rid' of the inquiry. In the interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation, Mr. Trump reiterated his belief that the attorney general would determine whether the public would see the results of the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. But he would not say whether he would be comfortable with the results being made public." (New York Times)
  • In a separate interview last week, President Trump took credit for popularizing the term "fake news" but refused responsibility for the rise in threats against journalists during his term. "President Trump takes credit for popularizing the term 'fake news.' But the consequences? Not his concern. In lengthy and at times contradictory remarks on Thursday about the news media — which he deemed 'important' and 'beautiful,' but also 'so bad' and 'unfair' — Mr. Trump called himself 'a victim' of unfair coverage and declined to accept responsibility for a rise in threats against journalists since he took office." (New York Times)
  • Trump wants to make Ronny Jackson a two-star admiral and his chief medical advisor, despite ongoing investigation. "President Trump has tapped a senior Navy officer who he considered last year to be his Veterans Affairs secretary for promotion to two-star admiral and to be his chief medical adviser, even though there is still an open Pentagon investigation against him into allegations that derailed his VA secretary nomination. The White House sent Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson’s name for promotion consideration to the Senate on Jan. 15. He was serving as the president’s doctor last April when Trump nominated him for the VA post, and withdrew from consideration after accusations of mismanagement and misconduct as White House physician emerged." (Washington Post)
  • The final test run for the 2020 Census will feature controversial citizenship question. "The Census Bureau is including a controversial question about respondent citizenship on its final test, while courts decide its ultimate fate. The test was first announced in December, as a means to get more information about the impact of the citizenship question. Since then, a federal court blocked a move to by the bureau to ask respondents about their citizenship on the basic 2020 questionnaire in a Jan. 15 ruling, but that decision isn't affecting the planned test. The Trump administration is seeking an expedited review of the case by the Supreme Court." (Federal Computer Week)
  • The latest Trump administration conflicts include the Trump Organization's undocumented immigrants, Ivanka's growing stable of trademarks, and more. Lynn Walsh checked in with her latest look at Trump conflicts. "This week, more undocumented workers were reportedly working at one of President Donald Trump’s properties, Ivanka Trump received more trademarks from China and a new report found more than a thousand conflicts of interest involving the Trump Organization." (Sunlight Foundation)

states and cities

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) on the campaign trail in 2018.Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) on the campaign trail in 2018. At the time he was still the state attorney general. Image Credit: Natureofthought.
  • Did Missouri's newest Senator break Sunshine Laws during his time as the state's attorney general? "Not long after Josh Hawley announced in 2017 that he was exploring a U.S. Senate run, Democrats requested records of any emails between his attorney general’s office and the consultants running his campaign. Hawley’s office told them they didn’t have any emails to turn over. But the emails did exist. The revelation that Democrats made a records request and that Hawley’s office denied it — uncovered in documents newly obtained by The Star — is now leading advocates for government transparency to question whether Hawley and his staff failed to comply with the state’s Sunshine Laws." (Kansas City Star)
  • New study finds link between loss of local newspapers and increase in political polarization. "The steady loss of local newspapers and journalists across the country contributes to the nation’s political polarization, a new study has found. With fewer opportunities to find out about local politicians, citizens are more likely to turn to national sources like cable news and apply their feelings about national politics to people running for the town council or state legislature, according to research published in the Journal of Communication." (Associated Press)
  • Three part investigation details how Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes tightened her control over state elections and the consequences. "The story of the CyberScout contract, told here in detail for the first time, suggests a consequence of the unprecedented power that Grimes has amassed as chief elections officer. (The first two articles in this series explored how she expanded her power as well as some of the voter-privacy concerns raised by her actions.) It shows what can happen when one person consolidates decision-making authority that has historically been divided, by design, among different entities." (ProPublica)
  • Is oversight getting more difficult for state and local watchdogs? "In state and local government, there are a variety of ways to cut the cards to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren’t being wasted or spent fraudulently. Among the most important players are inspectors general, performance auditors, evaluators and ethics commissions. Their function is critical. But how well are they able to do their job? There are, we can tell you, challenges. For starters, these oversight groups are aided by whistleblowers who alert them to violations of the law. But — and this is a big but — while two-thirds of states have statutes protecting whistleblowers, there’s still a widespread fear of retribution. That’s just the beginning of the hurdles faced by oversight organizations." (Governing)

washington watch

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters faces the White House in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. Image credit: Almonroth.
  • In a change, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce considers some bipartisanship in its endorsements. "After 40 years, the chamber, a powerful business organization, decided its method of rating and endorsing members of Congress was out of whack and could be contributing to the very gridlock it was hoping to break. Now the group, hoping to stir some bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, is overhauling its scoring system in hope of broadening its congressional base and rewarding those who reach across the aisle. It is a significant shift and represents the chamber’s recognition that a better functioning government might better serve its own interests — and its members — than persistent stalemate of the type that just caused a government shutdown, the longest on record…in recent years, the chamber has come to support Republicans almost exclusively. The watchdog group Public Citizen found that in 2016, the chamber devoted all of its campaign money — nearly $30 million — to Republican candidates in primary and general elections, making it one of the largest outside players in congressional races." (New York Times)
  • For 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, corporate cash isn't part of the pitch "As Sens. Elizabeth WarrenKamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand jumped into the Democratic presidential nomination contest, they staked out the same position against corporate campaign cash…Small as it is, this pledge to reject corporate PAC money has become a cornerstone of the Democrats' primary contest…Besides Gillibrand, Harris and Warren, those candidates include Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney." (NPR)
  • Is this PAC just a front for the real estate industry's political giving? "If you look up who funds your member of Congress on a website like, there’s a good chance you’ll find a group called Votesane PAC at the top of the donor list. Votesane, a top contributor to dozens of senators and representatives, cultivates an image of itself as a disinterested pass-through for politically engaged citizens to participate in politics. But a review of its donors and advisors reveals that the group functions as a cover for millions of dollars in contributions from the real estate industry. " (Sludge
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking to process mental health claims faster by digitizing Vietnam era combat records. "The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is planning to digitize its Vietnam-era combat records in a bid to speed the verification of claims over mental health issues for aging vets. The agency issued a “request for information” for companies interested in converting the archival text files into Excel-type spreadsheets. Data filtering will then be used to quickly verify potentially traumatic events claimed by ex-military personnel, according to a notice from the department." (Bloomberg)


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