Today in OpenGov: What’s in an earmark?


In today's edition, Americans share their opinions on election season, earmarks might be coming back to Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court will consider the Census citizenship question, a New York county looks to boost its financial transparency, and more.

off to the races

Image via Pixabay.
  • New poll from the Center for Public Integrity/Ipsos sheds light on Americans' views on elections. Some numbers that jump out? 67% think presidential campaigns should be limited to a specific time frame, with 32% saying that a year is the right length. Meanwhile,  85% think that elected officials often do favors for big campaign donors and more than 85% want to see more transparency around election ads and spending. Check out all the results via the Center for Public Integrity.
  • President Trump starting raising money for re-election on the day he was sworn in, kickstarting a permanent presidential campaign. "Raise money Trump has. Unlike any president in U.S. history. Starting the first day he took office — something no other president has done. The result is a permanent presidential campaign in which the free world’s leader at times appears more occupied with running for re-election than running the country…Trump, like his predecessors, could have paused his quest for campaign money upon assuming the presidency. Instead, he doubled, tripled, quadrupled down. Almost immediately." (Center for Public Integrity) Trump's taste for campaign cash has extended to his embrace of super PACs, a political money mechanism he once derided. (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Former Massachusetts governor exploring primary campaign against President Trump. "Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld said on Friday that he is exploring a challenge to President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020…Weld's most recent political bid was a 2016 run for vice president on the Libertarian ticket alongside former presidential candidate and New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. By jumping in as the first Republican to possibly challenge Trump's reelection, Weld is likely to draw attention. The former governor currently works at ML Strategies, and took a leave from the Boston-based consulting firm in 2016 to campaign." (POLITICO)
  • The Democratic National Committee delays decision to reduce role of corporate PACs in party fundraising. "The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has punted on a resolution that would have created a task force to reduce the role of corporate PACs in party fundraising. At a general meeting of DNC members in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, party officials said that they would instead refer the matter to the party's Platform Committee in 2020, giving the Democratic National Convention final say on the measure next year…Some members have called for a complete ban on corporate PAC money in Democratic politics. But other Democrats say that banning such contributions would essentially tie the party’s hands in its push to defeat President Trump in 2020. A growing number of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot have rejected corporate PAC contributions to their campaigns in recent years." (The Hill)
  • Is Michael Bloomberg, considering a presidential bid, mining his philanthropic network for support? "From shuttering coal-fired power plants to fighting the gun lobby, obesity and Big Tobacco, Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropy has given away $6.4 billion and earned the love and respect of progressive-minded activists across the country. The question is whether that goodwill is enough to fuel a Democratic presidential primary campaign. The network of Bloomberg Philanthropies recipients is vast, and it includes mayors throughout the country as well as grassroots climate-change, gun-control and education advocates and others who could form a ready-made army of campaign supporters, volunteers and paid staffers. Bloomberg’s political team is beginning to press the issue." (POLITICO) Disclosure: Sunlight has received financial support from Bloomberg Philanthropies since 2015. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, Sunlight has never and will never endorse or otherwise support candidates for elected office. Learn more about our funding here.  

washington watch

The Washington Monument and National MallImage via the National Parks Service.
  • The long rumored return of earmarks to Congress might be closer than ever. "…the quiet campaigns on and off the Hill are slowly emerging — as are the counterefforts to keep earmarks out. This comes at a moment when congressional partisanship and stalemate between the Hill and the executive branch have hit a fever pitch and as Democrats seek to assert the power of the legislative branch, including its full command of the nation’s wallet. A return of earmarks could soften the edges around partisan spending disagreements and could allow lawmakers to reclaim one of the powers they voluntarily surrendered amid scandal…Back in September, in outlining his vision for a sweeping overhaul of campaign finance, ethics and voting laws, Hoyer notably included his pitch for restoring earmarks with limitations and public transparency." (Roll Call)
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao are married. Is that causing conflicts of interest in their work? "A trove of more than 800 pages of emails sheds new light on the working relationship between Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the most potent power couples in Washington — including their dealings with McConnell supporters from their home state of Kentucky. Chao has met at least 10 times with politicians and business leaders from the state in response to requests from McConnell’s office, according to documents provided to POLITICO by the watchdog group American Oversight. In some cases, those people later received what they were hoping for from Chao’s department, including infrastructure grants, the designation of an interstate highway and assistance in getting state funds for a highway project — although the documents don’t indicate the meetings led to those outcomes." (POLITICO)
  • In misconduct case, Inspector General finds that former Rep. Mel Watt misused his position as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. "Mel Watt misused his position as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency in attempting 'to coerce or induce' a subordinate 'to engage in a personal relationship with him' by dangling the possibility of a promotion, according to an inspector general’s report made public today…It's the latest development in a saga that involved three investigations, a federal pay discrimination lawsuit and a congressional hearing. FHFA employee Simone Grimes accused Watt, whose five-year term ended in January, of sexual harassment last year. Watt refused to participate in an internal probe, arguing that as the presidentially appointed director, he was not an “employee” subject to the agency’s anti-harassment rules for employees." (POLITICO)
  • A key author of 2017 tax reform legislation is heading through the revolving door to Ernst and Young. "A former House aide who played a key role in crafting the Republicans' 2017 tax-cut law is joining Ernst and Young (EY), the firm announced this week. Barbara Angus, who had been chief tax counsel for House Ways and Means Committee Republicans, has been appointed global tax policy leader at EY and will focus on engaging policymakers and clients across the world, the firm said." (The Hill)


President Trump in front of a 2010 Census form. Image via Mother Jones.
  • The Supreme Court will hear a case questioning the legality of President Trump's Census citizenship question. "The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether the Trump administration may add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census questionnaire that will be sent to every household in the nation. The court’s move added a highly charged and consequential blockbuster to what had been a fairly sleepy term." (New York Times)
  • New Jersey attorney general seeks records from President Trump's inauguration. "New Jersey’s attorney general has stepped into the investigation of President Trump’s $107 million presidential inaugural fund, issuing an administrative subpoena for the fund’s financial records, including any that document fund-raising in the state. The action, taken last week by the state’s consumer protection office, came on the heels of a subpoena issued this month by federal prosecutors in Manhattan." (New York Times)
  • In what may be a unique presidential practice, Trump regularly talks to individual lawmakers on the phone. "The chatterbox in chief has eschewed the traditional way that presidents communicate with members of Congress, calling lawmakers at all hours of the day without warning and sometimes with no real agenda. Congressional Republicans reciprocate in kind, increasingly dialing up the president directly to gauge his thinking after coming to terms with the fact that ultimately, no one speaks for Trump but Trump himself." (Washington Post)

states and cities

The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

  • The former governor of Maine regularly stayed at the Trump International hotel in Washington when in town to meet with the President or his inner circle. "Former Gov. Paul LePage and his staff members paid for more than 40 rooms at Washington, D.C.’s Trump International Hotel during a two-year period, spending at least $22,000 in Maine taxpayer money at a business owned by the president’s family. Documents recently obtained by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram show that the LePage administration paid anywhere from $362 to more than $1,100 a night for rooms at the luxury hotel during trips to meet with President Trump or his inner circle, attend White House events or talk to members of Congress." (Press Herald)
  • "Point person" on Texas secretary of state's flawed effort to identify non-citizen voters quits without explanation. "The state elections official who coordinated the matching of lists of driver's licensees with Texas voter rolls to see if they contain ineligible non-citizens has resigned. Betsy Schonhoff, whom newly disclosed emails depict as the secretary of state’s office’s honcho of a nearly yearlong effort to match voter lists with databases at the Department of Public Safety, quit recently with no explanation, a spokesman for interim Secretary of State David Whitley said late Thursday." (Dallas Morning News)
  • Nassau County, New York is boosting its financial transparency efforts in the wake of a corruption scandal. "With a former county executive currently on trial for alleged financial malfeasance, Nassau County, N.Y., Comptroller Jack Schnirman has turned to technology to establish transparency and rebuild public trust in government. Schnirman, who took office in 2018, campaigned in part on a promise to open up and modernize the county’s finances in response to a history of scandals, and now he has taken a big step in that direction with Nassau County Open Checkbook." (Government Technology)
  • The Knight Foundation is planning $300 million worth of grants to help rebuild local news. "On Tuesday, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $300 million commitment toward rebuilding local news ecosystems during the next five years, with details on where the first $100 million of that money would go." (Poynter)


Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to We would love your feedback!