Editor's note: Today in OpenGov will be taking a short hiatus due to some upcoming travel. We'll be back to our usual schedule late next week!
In today's edition, the Trump Organization looks to avoid an investigation, Pentagon whistleblowers face retaliation, Albania's democracy hangs by a thread, and more.
- President Trump's climate science panel will be structured in a way that lets it avoid public records requirements. "As we reported last week, the White House hosted a cross-agency meeting regarding a plan to create an advisory committee specifically to attack the conclusions of its own climate scientists. Details of that meeting, and the plan that ensued, are now starting to leak out…The group will be structured so that it can do its work off the record. The Post notes that a formal Federal Advisory Committee would include having meetings in public and creating extensive public records of its deliberations. As a result, the new plan is to create an ad-hoc working group instead, which avoids the need for any public disclosure." (Ars Technica)
- The Trump Organization wants Congress to stop investigating it, citing a potential conflict of interest. "The Trump Organization is demanding that the House Judiciary Committee stop investigating the company, arguing that the congressional probes have been “irreparably” tainted. In a letter to Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas said the committee’s decision to hire Barry Berke as a legal consultant violates ethics rules because Berke’s firm has long represented the Trump Organization. In the strongly worded letter, Futerfas demanded that Nadler fire Berke and that the chairman turn over Berke’s communications with the Judiciary panel." (POLITICO)
- The Trump Organization says it has donated nearly $200,000 worth of foreign profits from last year. "President Donald Trump’s company says it has donated nearly $200,000 to the U.S. Treasury to make good on its promise to hand over profits from foreign governments using its properties. The Trump Organization says the check for $191,538 represents profits from embassy parties, hotel stays and other foreign government spending at the Washington, D.C., hotel and other properties last year. The voluntary donation is up from $151,470 to cover his first year in office." (POLITICO)
- Is this top EPA official violating ethics rules by meeting with former clients? "Less than a month into his tenure as the top air-policy official at the Environmental Protection Agency, Bill Wehrum hopped into the EPA’s electric Chevy Volt and rode to the Pennsylvania Avenue offices of his former law firm…The Dec. 7, 2017, meeting is just one example of interactions between Wehrum, a skilled lawyer and regulator, and former clients that ethics experts say comes dangerously close to violating federal ethics rules. Wehrum acknowledges that since joining the EPA in November 2017, he has met with two former clients at his old firm — without consulting in advance with ethics officials, even though they had cautioned him about such interactions." (Washington Post)
- Whistleblower retaliation is rampant, regularly goes unpunished at the Pentagon according to recent report. "Although the Pentagon inspector general’s office proved last year that the Army master sergeant was wrongly punished and the underlying allegations were true, the officials who retaliated had yet to face consequences. And it is not yet clear whether the damage they did to the soldier’s record has been fixed. The Pentagon IG’s office recounts that story and many more like it, with names and exact timelines removed, in a little-noticed report delivered to Congress in November. According to IG officials and data buried deep in the report, ordeals like that suffered by the master sergeant — a truthful disclosure followed by official retribution that usually goes unpunished — are repeated somewhere in the Defense Department more than three times a month on average." (Roll Call)
- Elizabeth Warren is planning to forego perks for big donors to her presidential run. "Senator Elizabeth Warren on Monday escalated her presidential campaign’s battle against big money in politics, announcing that her bid for the Democratic nomination will forgo traditional fund-raising methods meant to cultivate a candidate’s relationships with the wealthy. The Massachusetts senator said she would no longer hold the private fund-raisers and one-on-one meetings with big donors that have become typical for Democrats and Republicans." (New York Times)
- Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is paying back some of her FEC fines. "Stein’s 2016 Green Party presidential campaign committee cut the Federal Election Commission a $41,735.31 check in late December — an effort to resolve the committee’s mounting legal troubles. The payment came days after the Center for Public Integrity reported that Stein’s campaign owed the federal government about $53,000 related to nine separate unpaid fines for violating federal campaign finance rules…FEC records indicate Stein’s campaign still owes nearly $15,400 in fines and related fees — something a Stein staffer says was caused by an accounting mix-up that will soon be fixed." (Center for Public Integrity)
- Michael Cohen is set to appear before multiple Congressional committees this week. "Michael Cohen is about to make his long-awaited public appearance before Congress amid partisan debate over how much damage Donald Trump’s ex-fixer and longtime lawyer can do to his former boss…The main event for the public will be Wednesday, when he testifies in an open session of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Cohen, who is scheduled to report to prison on May 6, will face questions from Democrats about Trump’s business deals and hush-money payments — and from Republicans who maintain that nothing he says can be trusted." (Bloomberg)
around the world
- Opposition quits parliament, protesters take to the streets in Albania amid vote-buying revelations. "Thousands of Albanians participated in an opposition-led rally on February 21 in the capital Tirana. They demand fresh elections after an investigation by Voice of America and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network alleged government officials collaborated with criminal gangs in a vote-buying scheme in the 2017 elections. The rally climaxed with the resignation of 57 opposition lawmakers from the Democratic Party and Socialist Movement for Integration Party. With parliament closed off for the day, the MPs joined the protests where they made speeches denouncing the government's alleged vote-buying scheme." (Global Voices)
- Teaching youth about democracy using games and human centered design. "As the Technology Innovation team at NDI, we are always looking for new approaches to build intuitive platforms that make an impact for our partners in their particular context. One of our recent pilot projects – DemGames – offers partner organizations an opportunity to engage youth on civic and voter education issues through an interactive learning platform. Last April, as we began to think of the many ways a gaming platform could contribute to a youth debates program in Guatemala, we decided to run a three-day design sprint to develop a prototype we could begin to test." (National Democratic Institute)
- This fellowship is aimed at increasing the number of women open data leaders in Nepal. "Open Knowledge Nepal is very excited to announce that the ‘Open Data Fellowship – Women Edition‘ application is now open for all the women enthusiasts out there. The main motive behind the fellowship is to increase the number of women leaders in the field of open data in Nepal and use the existing expertise of different organizations to provide a good exposure to women and equip them with valuable work experience, confidence and skills that will help them to better understand the data ecosystem and potential opportunities. The fellowships offer the opportunity to connect with business groups, governments and individuals in the data community." (Open Knowledge)
- Journalists, activists, and teachers are being targeted in attacks on free speech in the Philippines. "The recent arrest and detention of Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor of the news site Rappler, is just the tip of the iceberg of intensifying attacks on Philippine media. As assaults on press freedom in the Philippines multiply, they come in various forms: red-baiting against members of media included in “military hit lists” of suspected communist rebels, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on alternative media sites, and a systematic use of trolls and bots against government critics on social media. Yet media is not the only target: teachers and activists also experience harassment in what they describe as a ‘constriction’ of freedom under the Duterte government." (Global Voices)
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