Today in OpenGov: FEC delays decision on foreign political money



  1. The Federal Election Commission mulled over its options to curb foreign political money and chose to punt until later in the summer. “During its meeting on April 14, the six commissioners of the Federal Election Commission were supposed to hear a motion for proposed rulemaking from Commissioner Ellen Weintraub concerning foreign corporations putting money into U.S. elections — but the agency pushed it off, leaving the matter unresolved for now,” reports Melissa Yeager.
  2. Victorville’s new open data policy brings more sunshine to the California desert. “The adoption of an open data policy demonstrates the commitment that the city of Victorville has toward an open and well-run government,” wrote Noel Isama. Sunlight would like to congratulate Victorville for this achievement, and we’re proud to have played a role in the creation of the policy.”


  • Public Citizen published a report on how much campaign finance reform has been discussed during the presidential primary debates. Spoiler alert: Not Much. Here’s the top line findings: “Citizens United” has been been spoken once out of more than 1,000 questions asked in the 21 presidential debates conducted so far. Overall, the term “Citizens United” was mentioned 13 times in more than 440,000 words spoken during the debates. The term “super PACs” has been used twice, both in questions posed by moderators. 15 questions have touched on election funding issues. None asked the candidates their views on the campaign finance system or what should be done to improve it. More than 80% of the comments regarding campaign finance were made by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (57.8%) or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (22.9%).
  • Here’s an unusual example of literally seeing money in politics: supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders showered the Clinton campaign’s motorcade with a thousand one dollar bills in a demonstration along the route to a fund raiser in California. Tickets to the event ranged between $30,000 and $353,000. “I think it’s an obscene amount of money,” said George Clooney, when asked about the cost of the fundraiser on Meet the Press this Sunday, “And it’s ridiculous that we should have this kind of money in politics.”
  • Concerns corporate sponsors have regarding sponsoring the Republican convention are apparently affecting fundraising for the Democratic convention as well. [Politico]
  • The Department of Homeland Security formally weighed in in favor of the proposed national policy for open source software: “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) strongly supports the proposed Federal Source Code Policy,” wrote CIO Luke McCormack. “We believe moving towards Government-wide reuse of custom-developed code and releasing Federally-funded custom code as open source software has significant financial, technical, and cybersecurity benefits and will better enable DHS to meet our mission of securing the nation from the many threats we face.”

    The comment from the agency’s chief information officer noted that prior comments — including an emailed one describing open source software as the “Mafia having a copy of all FBI system code” — “do not represent DHS policy or views.”

  • The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency is refusing to release records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from STAT related to two Chinese companies that were linked to an increase in fentanyl overdoses unless the private companies give their permission.  [STAT News]
  • Sunlight Foundation partner Results for America published its 2016 federal index of evidence-based governance in selected agencies. [Results for America]
  • Here’s what Demand Progress is looking for in the hearing for the nominee to be the next Librarian of Congress this Wednesday. [Medium]
  • Our Silicon Age? It’s worth reserving some skepticism about a column by Nellie Bowles in the Guardian that compared the wealth and power tech titans of today’s Silicon Valley with that of the Gilded Age of more than a century ago. On at least one metric, lobbying, Silicon Valley giants in the Internet industry still lag far behind other industries, from Wall Street to pharmaceuticals, although Valley money is increasingly flowing to DC and tech firms are staffing up.

    The soft power that Silicon Valley holds to influence policy in Washington, however, is greater than federal lobbying disclosures reflect, and people in DC and Silicon Valley remember what happened when platforms like Google and Wikipedia were used to activate the public to oppose the SOPA and PIPA bills in 2012. While Facebook’s platform could influence elections, the company says it won’t do so in the 2016 presidential election. The statement was prompted by Gizmodo’s report regarding a question about real estat mogul Donald Trump in an internal forum. While their exact ask is unclear (use the product or the company’s influence?) Facebook staff are aware of the power their platform has.

    All that said, comparing the hard power of tech execs to get their will done in DC to that of Carnegie or Rockefeller or other Gilded Age figures may be a stretch. If that weren’t the case, comprehensive immigration reform would probably be law today.

State and Local

  • Tens of thousands of Californians think they’re registered Independents when they’re actually registered in the American Independent Party (AIP). That insight comes from the Los Angeles Times, which learned which Californians were registered in the AIP through a public records act request. The Times used that public data to build a Web app that enables the public to check their voter registration. [Los Angeles Times]
  • Geography matters. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Associated showed that the gaps in life spans between the rich and the poor has widened.  The good news: local government policies focused on improving public health can increase the life expectancy of poor Americans. [Next City]
  • Last week, we accidentally left Steve Spiker out of the newsletter when we shared the news that he and Eddie Tejada were stepping back from OpenOakland. (We fixed it here on the blog.) Here’s Eddie Tejada’s reflection on what they built together in Oakland, California, and why it matters.  We regret the error.


  • “Towards an urban land resource curse?” Zinnbauer, senior program manager for emerging policy issues at Transparency International, published a paper that  looks at increasing urbanization and its potential to increase corruption. The prescribed remedy — increased transparency and due diligence in local property markets  — won’t be easy to achieve. [NextCity]
  • The Economist argued that politicians shouldn’t be forced to publicly disclose their tax returns if they don’t want to do so. They’re on to something, with respect to the need to think through balancing transparency and privacy, but come to a different conclusion than I do. [Economist]
  • Sara El-Amine will launch’s new global charitable foundation. [Politico]
  • The UK Prime Minister’s Office and both tweeted reminders about today’s deadline to register to vote, along with a link to get started with the process.  Take note, US politicians.
  • India plans to use its biometric-enabled national identity system as the foundation for a digital payments system, similar to Kenya’s M-PESA. [Bloomberg]
  • Peru’s national identity initiative is reportedly going to pilot a DNA add-on to connect children to parents. [@dgwbirch]
  • The Verge published a terrific article exploring the history of moderation on the Internet.  In a time when public speech is being hosted on private platforms, the rules that the companies that operate them make and uphold have global implications.
  • As part of an ongoing series on rethinking debates, Christine Cupaiuolo took a look at debate news around the world. [Civicist]
  • The algorithms that companies and governments use to make decisions and determinations merit investigation by journalists.  Data-driven commerce and governance need algorithmic transparency, but the tools and skill sets required are in short supply in the press corps. [CJR]
  • Writing in The New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann, the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, considered what the Panama Papers mean and what we should make of the lack of participation in the consortium by the New York Times or Washington Post. In his post, he cited Bill Buzenberg, the former head of the Center for Public Integrity, who wrote the following in his paper on global investigations in 2015: “The attitude that ‘we know best’ and ‘we do it all ourselves’ is an increasingly antiquated notion in the digital age when knowledgeable members of the public and colleagues at other news organizations could be brought into an effective journalistic process in new ways to become part of a more robust collaborative investigative effort.”

    “If Buzenberg is right,” writes Lemann, “then the Panama Papers is the latest important piece of evidence in support of the notion that, in every realm, the way work gets done is shifting from big institutions to loose networks. It may be, though, that the I.C.I.J. model is merely a phase in a progression toward an even more radically distributed way of breaking monster stories, one that would not involve journalists at all.”