Today in OpenGov: Media Madness


In today's edition, the GAO has a busy week, President Trump finds a sympathetic ear for emoluments lawsuits he's facing, New York State continues to drag its feet on campaign finance reform, change in Kazakhstan (but not really), and more. 

washington watch

Screenshot from ProPublica's Trump Town database. Screenshot from ProPublica's Trump Town database. Image by Susie Cagle/Special to ProPublica. 
  • The GAO finds government information on political appointees severely lacking. "The Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency, is urging the federal government to make information about thousands of political appointees — including their names, titles and federal salary disclosures about their assets, debts and past salaries — publicly available. The GAO’s report, which was released Friday, noted that ProPublica’s Trump Town is the only place people can access much of this information." (Government Executive)
  • Inside the GAO's new effort to help Congress stay up to date on technology policy. "As lawmakers prepare to weigh in on high-profile tech issues like artificial intelligence, 5G and online privacy, the Government Accountability Office wants to make sure they know what they’re doing. The agency is in the early days of standing up a new office dedicated to building lawmakers’ tech-savvy and helping them understand the impacts of any tech-centric policies they pursue. Ultimately, the Science and Technology Assessment and Analytics group would serve as a one-stop shop for the technical expertise currently in short supply on Capitol Hill." (NextGov)
  • C-SPAN celebrates 40 years of live broadcasts from Congress… "Forty years ago, C-Span went live with its first public broadcast from the House of Representatives chamber, giving Americans a television-shaped window into how lawmakers behave in the ornate room where history is often made. Ushering in the C-Span era on March 19, 1979, was Al Gore, then a representative from Tennessee, who had pushed for the network’s access to the Capitol." (New York Times) …for better and for worse? "In an era when nothing can gain universal acclaim in Washington, the universal fanfare that has attended C-SPAN’s 40th anniversary on Tuesday is astonishing…Anytime so many people agree about something, there’s usually reason for suspicion. C-SPAN has much to recommend it, as these endorsements show. But like every silver cloud, it isn’t without a dark lining. Reporters and Congress-watchers love it for the convenience. Authors love it for the serious coverage of books. Cranky citizens love it for the opportunity to call in. But politicians love it for the chance to grandstand." (The Atlantic)
  • The federal government is finally dumping DUNS for a government owned entity identifier. "A new vendor is taking over management of the vendor verification system run through the General Services Administration, ending a 20-year dynasty for the company that established the Data Universal Numbering System, or DUNS…After opening the contract to competitive bids last year, GSA announced Monday that a new vendor, Ernst & Young, would be taking over the entity validation system…With the introduction of a new vendor, GSA is taking the opportunity to reengineer the system. The DUNS number will be phased out over the coming months and replaced by the System for Award Management Managed Identifier, or SAMMI, number." (NextGov) Our friends at the Data Coalition expressed optimism at the announcement.
  • Former Obama White House Counsel under increased scrutiny for illegal foreign lobbying. "A long-running federal investigation into a former White House counsel in the Obama administration is reaching a critical stage, presenting the Justice Department with a decision about whether to charge a prominent Democrat as part of a more aggressive crackdown on illegal foreign lobbying. The case involving the lawyer, Gregory B. Craig, was transferred in January from federal prosecutors in New York to those in Washington. The previously undisclosed move was driven by Justice Department officials in Washington, and reflects an eagerness within the department to prosecute violations of lobbying laws after the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, focused on foreign influence in his investigations." (New York Times)


Protesters outside the Trump International Hotel in Washinton, D.C.Protesters outside the Trump International Hotel in Washinton, D.C. Image credit: Ted Eytan.
  • President Trump's lawyers may have found a sympathetic ear for their arguments against emolument lawsuits. "President Donald Trump's personal lawyers and attorneys from the Justice Department argued Tuesday that no one should be able to sue Trump for profiting from his businesses while he's in office — and for the first time in more than a year, things went well for the president in the case. The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by Maryland and the District of Columbia accusing Trump of violating the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the US Constitution…But the three-judge 4th Circuit panel expressed deep skepticism Tuesday about DC's and Maryland's positions on a host of issues, including what exactly they wanted a judge to order Trump to do, whether claims that Trump's hotel had an unfair competitive advantage were too speculative, and whether DC and Maryland — or anyone, for that matter — could bring a lawsuit against a president under the emoluments clauses." (BuzzFeed)
  • Vice President Pence is wooing 2016 anti-Trump GOP donors to give to the President's 2020 effort. "The private dinner provides a window into a behind-the-scenes, Pence-led mission: to ensure that Republican givers who never came around to Trump in 2016 are on board for 2020. With Democrats already raking in colossal amounts of cash, Republicans estimate they’ll need to raise around $1 billion — a figure that will require the party’s donor class to be all-in. Party officials also want to deprive any would-be Trump primary challengers of the financial oxygen they’d need to mount a campaign." (POLITICO)
  • Common Cause files complaints with the Justice Department and FEC over recently reported "straw donor" scheme. "Today, Common Cause filed complaints with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging reason to believe that a Florida businesswoman violated campaign finance laws by enlisting and reimbursing “straw donors” tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions related to the reelection efforts of Donald Trump." (Common Cause press release via Election Law Blog)
  • The White House's official Twitter account has started attacking the press. "Day in, day out, the @WhiteHouse Twitter account shills for Trump, coordinating messages that cast his presidency in a positive light. This, in itself, is not unusual—the account, after all, is controlled by Trump’s White House. But @WhiteHouse, which has over 18 million followers, doesn’t just share policy accomplishments and favorable statistics: it aims snarky put-downsat Trump’s critics and the news media, and retweets some of the president’s most concerning anti-press attacks. While journalists obsess over the @realDonaldTrump account’s every missive, @WhiteHouse goes mostly under the radar." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • The Pentagon's IG is looking into the acting defense secretary's Boeing ties. "The Pentagon's inspector general has begun an investigation into Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan's reported Boeing bias, the IG's office said Wednesday…On March 13, the independent watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington requested the investigation based on a January report from POLITICO that said Shanahan, while he was deputy Defense secretary, disparaged Lockheed Martin in Pentagon meetings and held up Boeing as an example." (POLITICO)

states and cities

Image via Pixabay.
  • Florida legislators are pushing a bill that would limit the number of ex-felons who can vote, in spite of recent constitutional amendment. "Florida legislators advanced a bill on Tuesday that is expected to limit the number of former felons who can vote, in part by requiring former felons to pay back all court fees and fines before they can register. Critics say the measure hits lower-income Floridians hardest and is designed to defy the will of the voters, who passed a constitutional amendment last year restoring voting rights to some felons who have completed their sentences without any mention of fines and fees." (NBC News)
  • This Massachusetts lawmaker wants to empower the state's Supervisor of Public Records. "Beacon Hill lawmakers continue to talk transparency and new ways of regulating access to public records. This time around, Representative Antonio Cabral (D-New Beford) has proposed a new bill, H. 2676, that would take a multifaceted approach at strengthening records law." (MuckRock)
  • Despite promise of change, campaign finance in Albany, New York has stayed the same so far this year. "When a group of young Democratic insurgents helped their party take over the State Senate in November, they vowed to push through far-reaching campaign finance and ethics reform, hoping to change a back-scratching culture that had long tainted Albany. But here was the scene the other night around the Capitol: Nine fund-raisers were taking place at the same time, all within walking distance." (New York Times)

around the world

Downtown Astana, Kazakhstan. Photo by Ken and Nyetta via Wikimedia CommonsDowntown Astana, Kazakhstan. Image credit: Ken and Nyetta via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Kazakhstan's long serving president stepped down, put his daughter in power poll position. "On March 19, Kazakhstani president Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned from office after nearly 30 years of undisputed rule as the leader of the oil-rich Central Asian state. The move was not unexpected, as Nazarbayev is 78 and in declining health. And the announcement itself came as a surprise for many. But there are already clear indications that the new regime will look very much like the old one…He maintains key functions that ensure full control over Kazakhstan’s political future. He is head of the all-powerful Security Council, and head of the ruling party Nur Otan. He also retains the title “Leader of the Nation” for life, which grants him, and his family a lifetime of immunity from judicial scrutiny or prosecution." (Global Voices)
  • EU nations are pushing for better rule of law oversight. "Germany and Belgium claimed widespread support in the European Union for a proposal to strengthen oversight of EU governments’ respect for democratic standards, highlighting the growing political sensitivity of the issue. An idea floated three years ago to create a “peer-review mechanism” on the rule of law gained momentum on Tuesday when most general-affairs ministers from the 28-nation EU signaled backing at a meeting in Brussels, according to the German and Belgian participants." (Bloomberg)
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party was suspended by the European People's Party. "Europe's most powerful political family imposed a timeout on its troublesome son but stopped short of kicking him out. The European People's Party (EPP), the center-right alliance that stretches across the Continent, suspended Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party in a move intended to show voters that it takes criticism of Budapest's rule-of-law record seriously. But the decision also leaves the door open for Fidesz to regain full membership." (POLITICO)


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