Today in OpenGov: Making amend(ment)s


In today's edition, an effort to amend the constitution and roll back Citizens United, lawsuits about in Trumpland, tax return transparency moves ahead in California, and more. 

washington watch

Shell games. Image credit: FaceMePLS.
  • Campaign finance laws do little to prevent donors from getting scammed… "…groups, often labeled “scam PACs,” are not new, and though they seemed to gain a toehold on the right first, liberal counterparts have been catching up in the Trump era. The basic setup is something like this: A group raises money it claims will go to some political cause, but ends up spending no money, or effectively no money, on that goal, instead directing the funds to other ends—often to its founders or staff in the form of salaries, payment for services rendered, travel, and the like…Here, it’s not the donors who are taking advantage—it’s the donors who are being taken advantage of, by operators who have spotted a shadow in the law in which they can operate." (The Atlantic)
  • …Speaking of campaign finance, a group of Senate Democrats introduced a constitutional amendment to roll back Citizens United. "Senate Democrats introduced a constitutional amendment on Tuesday to undo the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision.  A group of Democrats, led by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and progressive activists rallied outside the Supreme Court to unveil the amendment, which faces an unlikely path to being ratified…Democrats pledged that if they took control of the Senate during the 2020 election, they would bring legislation overturning Citizens United up for a vote. " (The Hill)
  • Agencies should be more transparent about how they handle information collected during public comment periods according to new GAO report. "Federal auditors want agencies to be more transparent about how they use information collected through the public commenting process, especially as the internet creates new possibilities for fraud and abuse. The Government Accountability Office launched the investigation last year after lawmakers raised concerns about the integrity of the public comment process at the Federal Communications Commission and other federal agencies…Specifically, auditors said agencies should be more explicit about how they identify users and handle duplicate submissions, and the organizations that don’t already have policies in place need to lay down some guidelines." (NextGov)
  • New report exposes ongoing problems with NSA's phone data collection program. "Even after the National Security Agency announced last year that it had purged records about Americans because some were inappropriately collected, the agency inadvertently continued to retain some of the data, according to a newly declassified report. The National Security Agency deleted the remaining data in October 2018 after its inspector general discovered it, the report said…The disclosure that certain data survived the attempted purge sheds light on the agency’s decision to turn off its high-profile but secretive phone records collection system at a time when the program’s future is uncertain." (New York Times)
  • DHS missed its deadline to share a report on its use of biometric identification technology and these Senators aren't happy about it. "A pair of senators are pressing the Homeland Security Department to release a mandated report on its use of biometric identification technology—and a detailed explanation as to why that information is nearly a month overdue, according to a letter published Friday…The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 directed the agency to provide a comprehensive report on its deployment and use of the technology, and the controversial privacy and accuracy implications connected to that use, by July 2 of this year. The senators note that while the agency has yet to issue the 'critical report,' it’s rapidly expanding its own deployment of facial recognition and biometrics collection." (NextGov)


Image via Pixabay.
  • Judge dismisses DNC lawsuit against Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, and Russia over email hack. "A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit the Democratic National Committee filed against the Trump campaign, the Russian government, WikiLeaks and various Trump campaign officials over alleged involvement in the hacking of Democratic Party email accounts during the 2016 presidential race. U.S. District Judge John Koeltl rejected the central theory of the racketeering suit: that the Trump campaign, campaign aides and Trump allies abetted the theft of the emails by encouraging WikiLeaks to publish the messages and by urging they be released when they would be of maximum political benefit to then-candidate Donald Trump." (POLITICO)
  • FOIA suit over Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants will continue, thanks in part to President Trump's inconsistent tweets. "President Donald Trump’s order last September to declassify parts of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant and subsequent tweets from Trump that arguably withdrew the earlier directive created enough uncertainty that a lawsuit seeking to force greater disclosure of the records will be allowed to continue, a federal judge ruled Tuesday…Mehta said a combination of factors combined to create a factual dispute denying the government victory in the case, at least for now. These included a Sept. 17 White House press release that said much of that information was declassified, Trump’s tweets four days later seeming to back away from the decision, and the Justice Department’s failure to adequately account for the statements." (POLITICO)
  • Attorneys for Trump, House Democrats fail to reach an agreement tied to suit over his state tax returns. "Lawyers for President Donald Trump, House Democrats and New York state told a federal judge today that they have failed to resolve a dispute over the president’s state tax returns…They had been ordered by District Judge Carl Nichols on Monday to figure out among themselves how to proceed in the case, in which Trump is demanding a temporary restraining order to prevent Democrats from taking advantage of a newly passed New York law designed to give them access to the president’s state tax filings." (POLITICO)
  • Trump's pick to oversee America's intelligence agencies may have overstated his experience. "Aides to the congressman chosen by President Trump to lead the nation’s intelligence agencies were forced on Tuesday to clarify his claims that he had won terrorism convictions as a federal prosecutor, as his background came under new scrutiny. Mr. Trump’s pick, Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, had said on his House website and in campaign material that he had tried suspects accused of funneling money to the Hamas terrorist group. But instead, an aide said, Mr. Ratcliffe had investigated side issues related to an initial mistrial, and did not prosecute the case either in that proceeding or in a successful second trial." (New York Times)

states and cities

Image via Pixabay.
  • Parties set to focus heavily on state legislative races as redistricting looms. "With the Supreme Court’s recent ruling green-lighting partisan gerrymandering, groups on both sides of the aisle are looking at the 2020 elections as crucial to drawing what they describe as fair maps. Democratic groups learned lessons from the last decennial cycle, when the 2010 GOP wave allowed Republicans in statehouses across the country to redraw congressional and state legislative lines in their favor, and they are paying attention to down-ballot races this time in an attempt to counteract it." (Roll Call)
  • California's governor signed a law requiring candidates release their tax returns in order to appear on primary ballot. "President Trump will not be eligible for California’s primary ballot unless he releases his tax returns, under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday. The law requires that all presidential candidates release their tax returns in order to be placed on the ballot for the state’s primary next year, in a move that will almost certainly lead to legal challenges. Mr. Newsom’s decision to sign the legislation seemed designed to escalate a running feud between the White House and California." (New York Times)
  • New York's governor signed a law allowing political candidates to use campaign funds for child care. "New York politicians will now be able to use campaign funds for child care costs incurred during campaigns, while in office or while holding a party position. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who signed the bill Tuesday, said the change in election law aims to help more women run for office on the state and local level." (The Hill)
  • Over the past decade ICE has sent nearly $13 billion to private contractors. See where that money's going. "On the heels of interactive reports on CBP vendors and 2018 ICE contractors, Sludge has now produced an up-to-date analysis of ICE vendors. From 2010 to July 29, 2019, more than 3,200 contractors received over $12.7 billion worth of ICE contracts. Some ICE vendors help transport and jail undocumented immigrants, while others provide products, technical assistance, consulting, cleaning, utilities, and other services. Among the companies and parent companies that have gotten the most money from ICE since 2010 are private prison giants GEO Group ($2.2 billion) and CoreCivic ($879 million); charter jet firm CSI Aviation Services ($909 million); consulting firms Deloitte ($249 million), Booz Allen Hamilton ($148 million), and McKinsey & Co. ($26.3 million); consumer products companies Dell ($52.9 million), Sprint ($43.1 million), U.S. Bancorp ($37.5 million), Microsoft ($14.6 million), and furniture seller Price Modern ($14.6 million); and Johns Hopkins University ($5.9 million)." (Sludge)


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