Today in OpenGov: A crack up at the NRA.


In today's edition, lessons from tactical data engagement in Austin and Norfolk, a crack up in the NRA's top ranks, inside President Trump's inaugural expenses, and more.  

states and cities

The City of Norfolk used Tactical Data Engagement methods to put open data in the hands of residents who are fighting for a more resilient city.
  • Lessons from Tactical Data Engagement in Norfolk, VA and Austin, TX. "Our new case studies dive into our Tactical Data Engagement (TDE) work with Norfolk and Austin, as we continue to explore how open data and user-centered design can be applied to find solutions for real local issues. " (Sunlight Foundation)
  • These Rhode Island teens are fighting for civics education in school. "Jaboukie Young-White visits a Rhode Island high school to interview teen activists fighting for high-quality civics education in a battle that could reach the Supreme Court." (The Daily Show) Our take? Civics education is important for an informed electorate and robust democracy and we're glad to see students pushing for it. 
  • This California lawmaker wants to fight political deepfakes with new legislation. "Citing fears that doctored videos of political candidates could be used to manipulate voters in 2020, a California lawmaker has proposed legislation to ban the release of so-called deepfake images before an election. Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, introduced AB730, which would prohibit a person from knowingly distributing a video or photo 60 days before an election with the intent of misleading voters with an image that has been deceptively edited to make it look like a true depiction of the candidate’s words or behavior." (Government Technology)

washington watch

Chris Cox speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Cox resigned as the NRA's top lobbyist yesterday. Image credit: Gage Skidmore.

  • The NRA lost its top lobbyist, dumped its public relations firm, and shut down its online TV station all on the same day. "Infighting at the National Rifle Association exploded Wednesday, when the powerful association severed ties with its longtime public relations firm, suspended operations of its fiery online TV station and lost its top lobbyist. The latest turmoil emerged just a year before the critical 2020 presidential elections when the NRA’s ability to influence the outcome could decide the fate of gun rights." (POLITICO)
  • Firms that provide private student loans flex their lobbying muscles in the face of high profile opposition from 2020 presidential contenders. "Mere days before the first Democratic primary debate, senators and presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders (I-Vt..) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have unveiled dueling policies to tackle the trillion-dollar crisis of student debt…Regardless of their differences, both proposals face fierce opposition from a number of financial firms that have fought to prevent meaningful student loan reform. These companies — student loan lenders and servicers alike — contribute hundreds of thousands to key congressional leaders through PACs and spend millions on lobbying annually to stymie pro-borrower initiatives and maintain a profitable status quo. The overwhelming majority — 77 percent — of educational loans are direct loans, with the Department of Education serving as direct lender to eligible students, setting the interest rate and terms, and disbursing funds. The remainder are provided through private financial institutions, with the majority coming from only three companies: Wells Fargo, Discover Company and Sallie Mae." (OpenSecrets)
  • The House Ethics Committee just created a working group to explore potential conflicts from members' work outside of Congress. "A bipartisan working group has been formed by the House Ethics Committee to examine what types of service or positions outside of Congress could result in conflicts of interest and to craft proposed regulations for the committee’s consideration that govern those pursuits…The announcement from the House Ethics Committee cites a new clause in the Code of Conduct, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, that states no member, delegate, resident commissioner, officer, or employee of the House can serve as an officer or director of any public company." (Roll Call)
  • The NSA improperly collected records on American phone calls and texts last October. "The National Security Agency (NSA) improperly collected records on American phone calls and texts last year, according to new documents obtained and released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The error occurred between Oct. 3 and Oct. 12, the documents show, and had not been previously disclosed. The documents were obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request." (The Hill)


President Trump at his swearing in ceremony. Image via the White House.
  • Exploring the money behind President Trump's expensive inauguration. "Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration was the most expensive in the country’s history, with $107 million raised for black-tie parties and bespoke gifts. That’s more than double the previous record set by Barack Obama. Where did the money come from? Where did it all go? And why should we care now?" (New York Times)
  • The House Oversight Committee voted to subpoena Kellyanne Conway over her Hatch Act violations. "A House committee voted Wednesday to authorize a subpoena for testimony from Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to President Donald Trump, after the White House said this week she was immune from having to testify before the panel. The 25 to 16 vote gives a green light to Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings to compel Conway to testify about a government watchdog’s accusations she violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from conducting politics while acting in their capacity as a federal employee." (Bloomberg)
  • EPA air pollution chief announces resignation as ethics probe raises new questions about his industry connections. "The former utility lawyer who led much of President Donald Trump’s rollback of pollution regulations will leave the Environmental Protection Agency — a move that comes after he provided conflicting information to Congress about his connections to the industry, three sources knowledgeable about the matter told POLITICO. EPA air pollution chief Bill Wehrum’s ties to his old law firm and especially the Utility Air Regulatory Group, an influential collection of coal-heavy utilities that lobbied against climate regulations, drew scrutiny from House Democrats, who launched an investigation in April." (POLITICO)
  • Brock Long, the former head of FEMA, has repaid only 2% of more than $150,000 of taxpayer money that he spent on personal travel. "Former FEMA Administrator Brock Long returned to the government only a tiny fraction of the costs he incurred for unauthorized use of vehicles while in office, according to previously undisclosed documents provided to POLITICO. A Homeland Security Department inspector general probe last year found that Long spent $151,000 using government-funded Chevrolet Suburbans for routine weekend travel to his home in North Carolina…But a copy of Long’s personal check, obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight through a public records request, shows that the former administrator paid back only $2,716 — less than 2 percent of the total cost billed to taxpayers." (POLITICO)


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