Our mission

Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Cool new dataset on American local government elections

Thanks very much to my friend and former Stanford colleague Kris Kasianovitz (as well as the awesome librarians at UC Berkeley!) for pointing to this Nature article “American local government elections database” (and it’s Open Access to boot!!). Kudos to de Benedictis-Kessner, Lee, Velez, et al for the yeoman’s work of collecting this massive amount of data AND for making it freely available to others! This is an excellent example of what researchers should do when they collect data for their research — publish their article AND make their dataset publicly available in an open data repository like Open Science Framework (OSF) or ICPSR (the grandpappy of all social science data repositories!). And it’s also a critical dataset for researchers in an area of government data (state and local) that is frequently difficult to find and even less frequently collated across multiple states and municipalities. One of my most frequent data requests is for elections but most researchers want to do comparisons across jurisdictions, states, years etc and there just is no “one dataset to rule them all.”

As KrisK notes in her post to the GOVDOC-L Listserv, PLEASE encourage faculty, students, researchers, journalists etc who put in the time and energy to collect local level data to make their datasets available through institutional or other data repositories (e.g. OpenICPSR, OSF, etc.). Collecting important data, especially at the multi-state and multi-municipality level, is a Many-hands-make-light-work kind of activity and is so impactful for other researchers, students, journalists, and the public who are exploring and trying to understand their worlds.

“One of the most persistent challenges in the study of urban and local politics in the United States is the lack of information about local elections, candidates, and elected officials. As a result, studies on local elections tend to focus on a single time period, geographic unit, or office, rather than holistically examining variation across time, geography, and offices.

In this paper, we describe a new database of election returns from about 78,000 unique candidates in about 57,000 contests in 1,747 cities, counties, and school districts from 1989–2021. Our database is the most comprehensive publicly-available source of information on local elections across the entire country. It includes information about elections for mayors, city councils, county executives, county legislatures, sheriffs, prosecutors, and school boards. It also includes a host of supplemental data, including estimates of candidate partisanship, gender, race/ethnicity, and incumbency status. For many elections, it also includes information on the political characteristics of constituencies, such as their ideology and presidential voting patterns.

This new database will enable scholars to study a wide variety of research questions. It enables examination of whether politicians represent the demographic, partisan, and ideological characteristics of their constituents. It also enables expanded work on the factors that affect local elections. Moreover, it facilitates study of the incumbency advantage across election types, institutional contexts, and candidate
characteristics. Finally, this database enables scholars to expand the study of how elections shape a host of political outcomes such as policy, political communication, interest group activity and intergovernmental lobbying.”

Citations:

  1. de Benedictis-Kessner, J., Lee, D.D.I., Velez, Y.R. et al. American local government elections database. Sci Data 10, 912 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-023-02792-x
  2. American Local Government Elections Database
    Contributors: Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, Diana Da In Lee, Yamil Velez, Christopher Warshaw
    Date created: 2023-04-11 02:17 PM
    Identifier: DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/MV5E6

Today on “beautiful public data”: Government Comic Books!

Today’s issue of “beautiful public data” takes a deep dive into Government Comic Books! The post explains the history of comic books since the 1950s.

BPD government comics

Today’s post references an interesting book called “Government Issue: Comics for the People 1940s-2000s.” by Richard Graham. Graham, a professor of libraries at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln has been collecting these unique comics since childhood.

I also highly recommend subscribing to the Beautiful Public Data newsletter written by Jon Keegan. Keegan is an investigative data journalist who writes for The Markup and other outfits. The BPD tagline is “A curated selection of visually interesting datasets collected by local, state and federal government agencies.” And that’s just what he does. Go check it out if you haven’t subscribed yet.

Brennan Center public letter to lawmakers on Artificial Intelligence (AI) signed by 87 civil society groups

FYI, on the heals of the first US Senate artificial intelligence (AI) “Insight Forum” called together by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) in september, 2023, today the Brennan Center for Justice, along with 87 civil society orgs (including FGI 😉 ) sent this letter regarding AI to lawmakers on the Hill. The letter warns of the impact of AI on the global economy and society, and particularly on historically marginalized communities and recommends “legislation that achieves meaningful, rights-respecting AI accountability.”

The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the risks that artificial intelligence (AI) and other automated decision-making systems pose to the well-being and rights of the American people. We welcome the intense attention that Congress is placing on these issues, and the inclusion of some key civil society representatives in the first Senate AI Insight Forum that took place on September 13th.

As Congress continues its examination of the opportunities and risks presented by AI, we urge legislators to consider the varied ways in which AI is already impacting our economy and society, particularly historically marginalized communities. We ask you to work closely with civil society to pursue legislation that achieves meaningful, rights-respecting AI accountability.

John Oliver on food safety. Or: you never know where you’ll find an unreported document

I’m so glad John Oliver is back! His latest expose on food safety is as always on point – at the same time being extremely funny! He explains the system under which food in the US is regulated (or not!), including the crazy fact that both the FDA and the USDA have some regulatory responsibilities in this area. Watch on.

Oliver is also good at using government documents to make his points. And this episode had a good one. He referenced a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General report from 2017 “The Food and Drug Administration’s Food-Recall Process Did Not Always Ensure the Safety of the Nation’s Food Supply”; so of course I had to check the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP). It’s sadly not surprising that this report was NOT in the catalog and so I had to send it in to GPO as an “unreported document.” Executive branch documents have long been problematic in being included in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) — for more of this history see ““Issued for Gratuitous Distribution”: The History of Fugitive Documents and the FDLP” by yours truly. And Inspectors General offices are among the worst. GPO doesn’t even include its own IG reports in the CGP so that should tell you something.

I hope others will join me in my Quixotic effort to report executive branch reports to GPO — and especially those from agency Inspectors General! — so that these important reports can be included in the FDLP and be preserved and made available for the long term. And now back to John Oliver:-)

JustSecurity posts Trump Trials Clearinghouse

This is incredibly helpful! The Site JustSecurity, at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, has just created the Trump Trials Clearinghouse to track on the large number of criminal and civil cases in which the former president is a defendant. The site includes a calendar as well as court proceedings, key statutes, relevant government documents and correspondence, JustSecurity analysis and more for each pending case. The repository will continue to be updated as events occur.

JustSecurity is “an online forum for the rigorous analysis of security, democracy, foreign policy, and rights.”

Former President Donald Trump is a defendant in a sizable number of criminal and civil cases. To help readers parse through these complex legal developments, we have centralized information on Trump’s major cases in the most comprehensive clearinghouse of its kind. Below you will find links to relevant court proceedings, key statutes, government documents, and defense documents – as well as Just Security resources and analysis, media and other guides.

We will continue updating this page with new information as the trials develop. We hope this repository of information will be useful for analysts, researchers, investigators, journalists, educators, and the public at large.

If you think the Trump Trials Clearinghouse is missing something important, please send recommendations for additional content by email to lte@justsecurity.org.

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