Today in OpenGov: Suit up.


In today's edition, Massachusetts flunks its transparency exam, retiring Representatives portend expensive 2020 races, you can help federal agencies improve their FOIA processes, and more. 

states and cities

The Massachussets State House. Image credit: Tony Hisgett.
  • Massachusetts earns failing grades on government transparency. "Massachusetts earns poor grades when it comes to government transparency with watchdogs knocking the state for keeping the public in the dark about the actions and finances of the governor, Legislature and judiciary…Massachusetts is one of only four states in the country to give the Legislature a blanket exemption on records requests. Gov. Charlie Baker is the latest in a series of Bay State governors to interpret state law as also giving his office the right to deny all the records requests." (Boston Herald) Sunlight's Noel Isama was quoted, saying that "there’s no way that you can say that Massachusetts is a good place when it comes to government transparency…You don’t want to be the state that’s known for being this opaque.”
  • President Trump and the RNC are suing California over the state's new tax return transparency law. "President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee filed lawsuits Tuesday challenging a California law that would require Trump to release his tax returns in order to appear on the state's presidential primary ballot. The California law, SB27, requires any presidential candidate who wants to appear on the primary ballot to submit copies of all income tax returns they filed with the IRS over the past five years." (BuzzFeed)
  • A fight is brewing in Portsmouth, Virginia over transparency and cyberattacks. "City officials say they’re being attacked regularly by internet fraudsters, and to guard their workplace, they want to make it harder for potential offenders to access public information. But government watchdogs, alarmed by Portsmouth’s efforts, say doing so would only make it harder for Virginians to hold public agencies accountable…the city has come up with a loose set of proposals to change the rules that regulate public access to government records. The changes would require people to provide a state ID when asking for data on more than five employees, allow government bodies to require written requests and allow citizens who write to government to opt out of having their “personal identifiable information” released through public-records requests. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government — a nonprofit whose aim is to promote access to government — said the city should tackle the problem by simply bolstering its network security and training staff to better deflect phishing attempts." (Government Technology)
  • This conservative judicial group is funneling millions towards state races via a national GOP committee. "The Judicial Crisis Network, a group dedicated to elevating conservative judges, spent a combined $22 million to promote the confirmations of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and contributed $1 million of the roughly $8.2 million the Republican State Leadership Committee raised through June 30 of this year, according to a report the RSLC filed last week. The RSLC then transferred about $1.2 million to its Judicial Fairness Initiative — nearly all of what the state judicial campaign group raised all year." (Roll Call)
  • Police might be able to access footage from your Amazon doorbell security camera without a warrant. "Hundreds of police departments around the country have partnerships with Amazon's home surveillance brand Ring. The relationship benefits both sides: the company provides tech and software to law enforcement, and the cops both provide data to Amazon and also help sell the product to local homeowners. That alone raises troubling issues, but according to a pair of new reports, Ring also gets access to real-time 911 data, and the company helps police work around a need for search warrants when looking for footage." (Ars Technica)

washington watch

House retirements are piling up ahead of the 2020 elections. Check out the interactive visualization at Open Secrets.
  • A slew of GOP House members are retiring, setting up expensive 2020 races to replace them. "Nine Republicans in the House of Representatives have already announced they will retire rather than seek reelection in 2020, opening up a handful of competitive seats in suburban districts across the country. The trend portends a number of expensive House races as Republicans fight to hold onto suburban districts that have turned purple under President Donald Trump’s tenure and Democrats look to field serious candidates in conservative districts." (Center for Responsive Politics)
  • Help federal agencies improve their FOIA processes with this short survey. "As part of its work in compiling recommendations for the improvement of the federal Freedom of Information Act, the federal FOIA Advisory Committee (which was established by the National Archives and Records Administration in 2014 to foster dialog between the Administration and the requester community, solicit public comments, and develop consensus recommendations for improving FOIA administration and proactive disclosures) has created a survey with a few simple questions for FOIA requesters. The responses will be used by the subcommittees of the FOIA Advisory Committee who are providing recommendations regarding the current volume of FOIA requests (and the time required to fulfill those requests) and vision for the future of FOIA." (MuckRock) The survey will remain open until Labor Day, you can take it here.  
  • Court drops foreign lobbying charge against former Obama aid, will proceed with second charge of lying to federal authorities. "One of two charges against Gregory B. Craig, a former Obama White House official accused of lying to the Justice Department about his work at a prominent law firm on behalf of Ukraine’s government, was dismissed on Tuesday, days before his criminal trial was set to begin. Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the government could not prosecute Mr. Craig for making false statements under a foreign lobbying law because the language of the statute was too ambiguous. But she upheld a second charge under a broader statute that makes it illegal to lie to federal authorities." (New York Times)
  • Three securities fraud charges against Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) dropped. He will still face trial on 8 others. "The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is dropping three securities fraud charges against Rep. Chris Collins and two against his son, Cameron, in order to avoid unnecessary pretrial litigation that could delay the case, according to a court filing submitted Tuesday. The government’s decision still leaves both father and son facing a tsunami of remaining charges stemming from the New York Republican congressman’s alleged role in an insider trading scheme involving an Australian biotechnology company, Innate Immunotherapeutics…The congressman still faces eight charges, including conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and making false statements. He could face decades in prison if convicted on all charges. The younger Collins also faces serious jail time and nine total charges." (Roll Call)
  • Join the Data Coalition for the GovDATAx Summit in October. "Whether government should use data to improve society is no longer up for debate – the answer is definitively yes. When high-quality government information is accessible, it can be applied to generate insights that help decision-makers develop better policies for the American people. We’ve seen successes in early education, disease prevention, and government transparency efforts, and more could be done with better access to data. For too long, our government operated in silos to address some of the issues related to data access and use, without planning for a wide range of data users. Too frequently, the data community reinforces its own silos rather than working in collaboration. That is why the Data Coalition is launching GovDATAx Summit in 2019." (Data Coalition)


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