In today's edition, Minnesota will try again to ease public access to court records, the GAO shares ways to improve protections for federal whistleblowers, the House wants to know what sort of business White House officials are conducting on their personal accounts, and more.
states and cities
- Tennessee is bringing a bit more transparency to its incentives to keep and attract business. "Details on tax credits offered to companies remain confidential, but the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is now announcing the amount of FastTrack grants it’s offering businesses within 30 days of a project’s announcement. The state previously waited to announce the grants until it signed contracts with businesses detailing the grants’ terms. So if you’re curious about how much money companies will get from the state in order to locate or expand in Tennessee, you can go to a searchable database on TNECD’s website." (MuckRock)
- Minnesota is ditching its troubled court records access portal and starting from scratch. "Minnesota’s judicial branch is pulling the plug on an ambitious software project that would have given the public remote online access to court records statewide. The project, approved in 2017 and scheduled to go live this past January, has been plagued by missed deadlines, frequent programming mistakes and security errors. Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said the branch will start over rather than try to patch up the troubled web portal." (Star Tribune via NFOIC)
- In a change of course, the Colorado Water Conservation Board will open its meetings to the public. "After a week filled with pushback from water managers and users, especially on the Western Slope, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board has decided to hold upcoming workgroup meetings about a potential water-demand management effort in public and will no longer ask the workgroup volunteers to sign non-disclosure agreements or always meet behind closed doors." (Aspen Times via NFOIC)
- Puerto Rico's next governor will start her new job facing an ethics investigation. "On her first day as bankrupt Puerto Rico’s governor-in-waiting, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez was immediately embroiled in an investigation when the island’s Office of Government Ethics announced a review of her conduct as the commonwealth’s chief law-enforcement officer. Zulma Rosario, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Office of Government Ethics, directed her staff Thursday to look into accusations that Vazquez ignored evidence of possible corruption in the provision of hurricane relief. It is a probe into probes — or the lack thereof — and reflects the island’s bitter and personal politics." (Bloomberg)
- Improving protections for federal whistleblowers. "Whistleblowers help protect the government from waste, fraud, and abuse by reporting potential wrongdoing. Because there’s a risk of reprisal, such as being fired or reassigned, it’s important to safeguard whistleblowers’ identities and the information they provide. For National Whistleblower Day, today’s WatchBlog explores some of our work on how federal agencies and Congress deal with whistleblowers—and what can be improved." (GAO WatchBlog)
- Facebook's online ad library isn't up to snuff according to researchers trying to use it to track political messaging. "Faced with a rising backlash over the spread of disinformation in the aftermath of the 2016 elections, Facebook last year came up with a seemingly straightforward solution: It created an online library of all the advertisements on the social network…But instead of setting a new standard, Facebook appears to have fallen short. While ordinary users can look up individual ads without a problem, access to the library’s data is so plagued by bugs and technical constraints that it is effectively useless as a way to comprehensively track political advertising, according to independent researchers and two previously unreported studies on the archive’s reliability, one by the French government and the other by researchers at Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser." (New York Times)
- Former HHS Secretary Tom Price wants to use leftover campaign cash to fund his "social welfare" group. Will the FEC let him? "Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price served in that role for just seven months: He resigned amid criticism of his taxpayer-funded private charter flights. Now, Price wants the Federal Election Commission to allow his new nonprofit “social welfare” group to use $1.7 million worth of leftover campaign money from his old congressional committee — a move that would give former candidates a new way to use such funds…Price’s request, if approved, would create a path for former congressional candidates to transfer surplus campaign cash to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups, a type of nonprofit that operates with fewer restrictions than charities — though Price’s lawyers promise the group wouldn’t pay salaries to Price or his family members or use the money for political purposes." (Center for Public Integrity)
- Democrats are launching a new dark money group to support their House majority. "Top Democratic strategists are launching a new outside group that can raise and spend unlimited money to tout issues that helped candidates flip the House in 2018 and became early legislative priorities this year. The group, a nonprofit called House Majority Forward, seeks to cut through media coverage of House Democrats focusing on White House investigations and a handful of outspoken freshmen…The nonprofit will operate as an affiliate of House Majority PAC, Democrats’ flagship super PAC focused on House races. But unlike the super PAC, it will not have to disclose its donors and some details about its spending." (POLITICO)
- House Oversight Committee approves subpoena for work related communications from White House officials' personal accounts. "The House Oversight Committee voted Thursday to authorize a subpoena for all work-related texts and emails sent or received by White House officials on personal accounts, part of a long-running probe into whether senior administration aides have violated federal records laws by using private messaging services for official business. The 23-to–16 vote, divided along party lines, puts into the cross hairs President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, both of whom have admitted through an attorney to using personal accounts in the course of their work." (New York Times)
- President Trump's quest for a restraining order in case involving his state tax returns will be delayed as it shifts to a new judge. "A federal judge decided Thursday that a different judge should handle President Donald Trump's suit to prevent House Democrats from obtaining his New York state tax returns, delaying a decision on the president's request for a restraining order against the Democrats. Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee, rejected a bid by Trump lawyer William Consovoy to have McFadden hear both that case and a separate lawsuit by Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal seeking the president's federal returns." (POLITICO)
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