Today in OpenGov: Caught in a Trump Trap


In today's edition, President Trump's properties make political headlines and political money, Chief Data Officers will be vital for the future of open data, Europe and China get into a privacy fight, and more. 


The entrance to President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.The entrance to President Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
  • The House Veterans Affairs Committee will look into improper influence from three Mar-a-Lago members… "House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano(D-Calif.) today opened an investigation into the outsized role of three members of President Donald Trump's Florida country club in a digital health record contract and other VA business. In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, Takano requested extensive documents including all records of communication between the Mar-a-Lago members and their companies with current or former senior VA officials." (POLITICO)
  • …Meanwhile, advisers to President Trump are floating Mar-a-Lago as the site for his next meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. "Xi may soon come to Mar-a-Lago. President Trump's advisers have informally discussed holding a summit there next month with Chinese President Xi Jinping to try to end the U.S.-China trade war, according to two administration officials with direct knowledge of the internal discussions. Both officials, who are not authorized to discuss the deliberations, described Trump's club in Palm Beach, Florida, as the "likely" location for the leaders' next meeting, but stressed that nothing is set. The meeting could come as soon as mid-March, these sources said." (Axios)
  • Did the Trump inaugural committee seriously overpay for space at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.? "Federal prosecutors in New York are circling Donald Trump’s inaugural committee as part of a wide-ranging investigation into possible money laundering, illegal contributions and cash-for-access schemes. Now, WNYC and ProPublica have identified evidence of potential tax law violations by the committee. A spokesman confirmed that the nonprofit 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee paid the Trump International Hotel a rate of $175,000 per day for event space — in spite of internal objections at the time that the rate was far too high. If the committee is deemed by auditors or prosecutors to have paid an above-market rate, that could violate tax laws prohibiting self-dealing, according to experts." (WNYC and ProPublica)
  • Political committees have spent $6.5 million at Trump properties since the 2016 election. "Data compiled from the Federal Election Commission and ProPublicaindicate that, since the 2016 election, Mar-a-Lago has been paid nearly $300,000 from political committees for event space. Happier still for the president, that’s just a small portion of the $6.5 million ProPublica estimates was spent by political groups at Trump properties since the 2016 election. More than $2 million of that spending was laid out at Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., including at the restaurant inside it. Incumbent candidates — incumbent Republican candidates, that is — saw the Trump hotel as a good event location for their supporters in the area." (Washington Post)
  • Tech companies deciding whether or not to give President Trump's 2020 campaign the same sort of technical assistance as other campaigns are facing a tough choice. "The 2020 presidential campaign is shaping up as a major political headache for tech companies still reeling from blowback over the support they offered Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican Party in the last election. Two and a half years ago, companies including Google and Facebook gave the then-Republican nominee the same technical assistance they lend to other candidates…But now the companies are facing rising pressure from liberal activists to withhold any technical or financial aid for the president and the GOP. The activists, including groups that hold sway in Silicon Valley, say Trump's track record in the White House makes business as usual out of the question." (POLITICO)

washington watch

Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., talked about the potential of open government data shortly after introducing the OPEN Government Data Act.Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) talked about the potential of open government data shortly after introducing the OPEN Government Data Act. Image via Sunlight Foundation.
  • The future of open data will depend on newly mandated agency Chief Data Officers. "The OPEN Government Data Act, which President Trump signed in to law in January as part of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, requires that all agencies designate a nonpolitical chief data officer. And this is a good thing because the future of the law, advocates argued Thursday, relies very much on what these CDOs do." (FedScoop)
  • In the race for small dollar donors, the two Democratic front runners haven't even officially joined. "Senator Bernie Sanders would begin a 2020 presidential bid with 2.1 million online donors, a massive lead among low-dollar contributors that is roughly equivalent to the donor base of all the other Democratic hopefuls combined. Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who narrowly lost a Senate race last year, is also poised to be a fund-raising phenom if he runs for president: He has twice as many online donors as anyone eyeing the race besides Mr. Sanders." (New York Times)
  • Amazon, under fire for faults in its facial recognition technology, proposes guidelines to lawmakers. "Amazon offered Congress and other policymakers a set of guidelines regarding facial recognition technologies—of which it is one of the world’s foremost suppliers with its Rekognition software…in January, some Amazon shareholders argued for the company to stop selling facial recognition software to the government—over potential violations of civil and human rights—until the company’s board of directors could review societal impacts of the technology. In recent weeks, some cities, including San Francisco, have called for banning facial recognition outright." (NextGov)
  • Former Speaker of the House John Boehner set to chair new pro-marijuana lobbying group. "Ex-Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been named honorary chairman of the National Cannabis Roundtable, an organization to lobby for pro-marijuana policy. The group, which launched Friday, is industry funded and will work on removing federal restrictions that prohibit research on cannabis, combatting the opioid epidemic and developing solutions for veterans." (The Hill)

around the world

A padlock in front of data. Image via Pixabay.
  • Europe is rethinking its relationship with China amid surveillance and privacy conflicts. "The European Union is waking up to a new surveillance threat, except this time the bad guy is China, not the United States. Amid a global standoff between Washington and Beijing, the European Commission is re-evaluating its policies toward China on everything from technology transfers to unfair competition and dependency on foreign tech companies like Huawei. A crucial part of that review now concerns privacy, amid worries that Europeans’ data is not secure from snooping when it’s handled by Chinese companies, say Commission officials." (POLITICO)
  • Uganda's social media tax isn't bringing promised revenue, but is leaving people disconnected. "The number of people using the internet in Uganda has dropped by more than 12 percentage points since July 2018, when the country's so-called “social media tax” was put into force. Prior to the tax's implementation, 47.4 percent of people in Uganda were using the internet. Three months after the tax was put in place, that number had fallen to 35 percent…for many, this is a violation of freedom of speech and a form of double taxation, as citizens already pay a tax on data bundles to access the internet. Opposition members of parliament, journalists, activists and the general public argued that the tax would lock thousands of people out of online services — especially youth, who make up more than 70 percent of the population…The government expected to collect about UGX 24 billion in revenue from the tax every quarter. But in the first quarter after the tax's implementation, they collected UGX 20 billion. In the second quarter, ending December 2018, they had collected only UGX 16 billion." (Global Voices)
  • Nigeria's president raises the specter of corruption in imminent elections. "Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking another four-year term in elections due to take place in six days, said the country’s anti-graft agency has raised concern over laundered money being used to buy votes…Buhari, 76, was voted back into power in 2015 promising to curb corruption. While he has a reputation for honesty, critics say his war on graft is selective and has lost credibility. Nigeria dropped 12 places on Transparency International’s corruption perception index last year." (Bloomberg)


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