Today in OpenGov: Case Closed


In today's edition, Democrats tee anti-corruption and campaign finance up as 2020 issues, we explain how to create impactful open data through user research, President Trump's inaugural committee faces scrutiny, a new report finds freedom in retreat, and more. 

But first, we're hiring! Sunlight is looking for a passionate individual to join us as Director of the Web Integrity Project. The Web Integrity Project’s mission is to monitor changes to government websites, holding our government accountable by revealing shifts in public information and access to Web resources, as well as changes in stated policies and priorities. The Director will be responsible for stewarding WIP’s mission, managing the work of WIP’s 3-5 full-time staff, and leading WIP’s communication with journalists, partners, members of Congress, federal agencies, and funders.

Interested? You can learn more about the role and how to apply here.

washington watch

A drawing of a man in a suit chasing a dollar sign. Via Pixabay. Image via Pixabay.
  • Democrats look to ensure that campaign finance and anti-corruption will play a major role in 2020 with new legislative proposals. "Even as House Democrats have made a political overhaul a top priority, numerous lawmakers, including freshman members, have filed their own campaign finance and anti-corruption bills, a sign the topic will dominate into the 2020 campaigns…Those come as House Democrats are pushing their catch-all campaign finance, ethics, lobbying and voting overhaul, which the House Oversight and Reform Committee plans to examine in a hearing Wednesday. The multitude of proposals reflect the high profile that political money has taken on. And the issue is likely to remain a signature theme for Democrats running for the White House and Congress in 2020." (Roll Call)
  • The Senate Ethics Committee closed its case against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). "The Senate Ethics Committee has closed its file on Sen. Bob Menendez, putting a formal end to the ethics controversies that had dogged the New Jersey Democrat for more than six years. The committee last spring admonished Menendez over gifts he had received — but had not initially disclosed or repaid — from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, a close personal friend who is now serving a lengthy prison sentence for Medicare fraud…The April 2018 ethics admonishment came five months after Menendez survived a federal corruption trial in which prosecutors alleged he did official favors for Melgen in exchange for political contributions, private jet flights and other gifts prosecutors valued at around $1 million. The jury deadlocked, with 10 of the 12 members favoring Menendez’s acquittal on most counts, according to a former juror who talked to reporters." (POLITICO)
  • Lawsuit aims to bring down the paywall around federal court documents. "The federal judiciary has built an imposing pay wall around its court filings, charging a preposterous 10 cents a page for electronic access to what are meant to be public records. A pending lawsuit could help tear that wall down. The costs of storing and transmitting data have plunged, approaching zero. By one estimate, the actual cost of retrieving court documents, including secure storage, is about one half of one ten-thousandth of a penny per page. But the federal judiciary charges a dime a page to use its service, called Pacer (for Public Access to Court Electronic Records)." (New York Times)
  • The OpenGov Foundation will shut down Madison, its platform for collaborative public policy development. "On February 10, 2019 we are shutting down Madison…Since December 2011, The OpenGov Foundation has developed Madison for public servants and citizens to develop better public policy together. Through four major releases, The OGF maintained and improved Madison for thousands of citizen-users and more than seventy-five local, state, federal and international governments. We are honored by every one of those users, and by the hundreds of thousands of additional people who stopped by Madison to witness smarter, more equitable 21st Century democracy in action. It was a helluva run." (OpenGov Foundation)
  • The NRA spent a record amount on lobbying in Washington, DC over the past two years. "The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in Washington, did little to advance its agenda over the past two years even with a gun-friendly president in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress. The group spent a record $9.6 million lobbying lawmakers and federal agencies over the last two years, federal disclosures show, up from $5.9 million the previous two years." (Bloomberg)

states and cities

Persona's from Sunlight's Open Data User Persona Library.Personas from Sunlight's Open Data User Persona Library.
  • Impactful open data through user research. In a blog post originally posted on the Laserfiche ECM blog, Sunlight's Noel Isama explained how, "as more cities adopt open data policies, our work has evolved to help cities shape open data programs to the actual needs and desires of the community for greater impact. To do so, we developed the Tactical Data Engagement (TDE) framework, a user research and community engagement process, used to not only assess the information needs of a community, but also to facilitate the co-designing of an open data based solution to those needs. The TDE framework has been piloted in four U.S. cities: Madison, Wisconsin; Glendale, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Norfolk, Virginia. We adapted TDE to each city’s unique environment, obtaining results which helped directly address community needs with data-based solutions." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • New Mexico state representative pulls back "right to be forgotten" bill in wake of first amendment backlash. "After a scorching backlash, freshman New Mexico Rep. Andrea Romero on Friday quickly backed off a bill that would have required that publishers remove 'inaccurate, irrelevant, inadequate or excessive content regarding an individual' from the Internet. Critics saw the measure as an assault on the First Amendment and press freedom by Romero, who was the subject of months of hard-hitting news coverage and commentary during her successful run for northern Santa Fe County’s House District 46 seat last year." (Government Technology)
  • Local governments lack consistency on public versus private email use in these Michigan counties. "When it comes to the deets on public officials in the five-county Grand Traverse area, it's a toss-up. Government-issued email? Or personal email? While there are no hard and fast rules, nearly all county and city employees and elected officials in the Record-Eagle's five-county coverage area that includes Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties use a government-issued email. But when it comes to those who work in smaller municipalities — village clerks, township treasurers, planning commissioners, trustees and more — contact info consists of a mishmash of government emails, personal emails and no emails at all." (Record-Eagle via NFOIC)


President Trump celebrates his inauguration at the Liberty Ball on January 20, 2017.President Trump celebrates his inauguration at the Liberty Ball on January 20, 2017. Image via the U.S. Department of Defense.
  • A sweeping subpoena has been issued for information from President Trump's inaugural committee. "Federal prosecutors issued a subpoena on Monday to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee in another sign of the broadening swath of investigations circling around events tied to the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath…Multiple news outlets reported that the subpoena seeks a wide range of documents from the nonprofit inauguration group, including records about the committee’s donors, attendees at the January 2017 celebration in Washington and information about people who got their photos taken with Trump." (POLITICO) Individuals under scrutiny in the probe may include Tom Barrack, the inaugural committee's chairman (Bloomberg) and Imaad Zuberi, who has donated to Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and President Trump (New York Times).
  • The GAO can't figure out exactly how much President Trump's trips to Mar-a-Lago cost taxpayers, but it's definitely a lot. "The Government Accountability Office set out in 2017 to calculate the total cost to taxpayers of President Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, Fla., but said in a report issued on Tuesday that it could come up with only a snapshot of the expenses because the Trump administration did not respond to requests for more information.  The agency ended up studying only four trips the president took over a one-month period in 2017 and found that government agencies, including the Defense Department and the Secret Service, spent some $13.6 million — an average of over $3 million for each trip — to transport and protect the president, with the bulk of the expenses going to cover the cost of military aircraft and boats during that time. The tab, officials say, is most likely higher since the total expenses that administration members racked up traveling, dining and staying at the resort are not known for the four trips, much less for the 218 days of his presidency that Mr. Trump has spent at one of his properties. Of that total, 78 of the days were spent at Mar-a-Lago." (New York Times)
  • The Trump administration quietly tapped a former Koch Industries official to head up toxic chemical work at the EPA. "The Trump administration has placed a former Koch Industries official in charge of research that will shape how the government regulates a class of toxic chemicals contaminating millions of Americans’ drinking water — an issue that could have major financial repercussions for his former employer. David Dunlap, a deputy in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, is playing a key role as the agency decides how to protect people from the pollution left behind at hundreds of military bases and factories across the country. President Donald Trump has not nominated anyone to run the office. That effectively allows Dunlap to avoid the Senate confirmation process while overseeing a central part of EPA's work that could impose cleanup costs on companies that have used the chemicals, including major Koch subsidiary Georgia-Pacific." (POLITICO)

around the world

Graphic highlighting "global erosion of Democratic norms" via Freedom House. Graphic via Freedom House.
  • New report finds that global freedom has retreated over the past 13 years. "In its Freedom in the World report for 2018, out Tuesday, the Washington-based rights group said that between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries it ranked as 'not free' fell from 37 to 23 percent, while the share of so-called free countries grew from 36 to 46 percent. However, between 2005 and 2018, the share of 'not free' countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of "free countries" fell to 44 percent." (POLITICO) Hungary took the dubious honor of being named the EU's first "partly free" member as part of the report. (Bloomberg)
  • European parliamentarians voted for more transparency around who lobbies them. "With a difference of four votes, there is now more transparency in lobbying of Members of the European Parliament. The European Parliament voted for MEPs to publish online information about meetings with lobbyist on 31 January 2019. The vote had to be approved by at least 376 votes for an amendment to its Rules of Procedure. With a total of 630 members of the European Parliament, 380 were for the proposal, 224 against, and 26 abstained." (Access Info)
  • Digging into the numbers behind the Paradise Papers from the accountant's perspective. "The 13.4 million pages that comprise these leaked documents reveal how the world’s rich escape the tax laws of their home countries by using offshore tax havens. It’s more or less a mega-compendium on all things tax avoidance. For that reason, I think it’s an excellent educational resource to any aspiring tax professionals who want to know more about how the global tax system works and the numerous ways people exploit it. Keep reading to learn more about what the Paradise Papers are all about and what they can teach us about tax avoidance!" (CPA Accounting Institute for Success)
  • The French National Assembly approved a controversial law aimed at cracking down on violent protests. "France's National Assembly passed a controversial law Tuesday aimed at cracking down on violent protesters in the wake of the so-called Yellow Jackets demonstrations…Human rights advocates as well as members of Emmanuel Macron's own La République En Marche (LREM) party have criticized the bill, arguing it infringes upon the freedom to protest. While the legislation passed by 387 votes for and 92 against, 50 LREM lawmakers abstained — a record for legislation backed by the government." (POLITICO)


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