Today in OpenGov: SCOTUS decision leads to more joint fundraising, finding California data, truthiness


THANK YOU! On Saturday, the Sunlight Foundation teamed up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Data Foundation, and Level Zero to convene over 40 volunteers to conduct 970 searches for data inventories on California state government agency websites. As Dave Maass reported at the EFF blog, we found 680 unique agencies, of which 430 had online data catalogs, and 250 did not. You can download open data of this first round of California Database hunt results as a .xls or .txt file. [EFF]


  • Josh Stewart: “The 2016 election is the first presidential campaign since the McCutcheon decision, and the candidates are exploiting loopholes by using joint fundraising committees (JFCs) to raise bigger-than-ever bucks. Simply put, a JFC is a committee that benefits two or more candidates, PACs or party committees. According to Sunlight’s own Campaign Finance 101 Glossary, “Since McCutcheon v. FEC, donors can contribute as much as they want to these committees, and the money will be split amongst the beneficiaries in accordance with legal limits.” But there’s a reason why JFCs have become so popular recently. As Sunlight’s Libby Watson noted in June, without aggregate limits in place, a JFC can now raise huge six-figure sums from individual donors with just a single check.” [READ MORE]
  • The transparency, accountability and accessibility a candidate demonstrates in a presidential campaign is an indicator for how he or she will behave if elected to public office. As Jim Rutenberg noted in his column on planes and presidential transparency, “a candidate who doesn’t want journalists around is a would-be president who presumably doesn’t want to be transparent with his or her many millions of viewers and readers — with you. You don’t have to go too far back in history to find the rotten fruit that secrecy has seeded.” [New York Times]
  • Every donor interviewed for this story “said they believed they had given to Trump’s campaign, not an unconnected [political action committee].” They were wrong. [Politico]
  • The Trump campaign continues to send illegal fundraising messages to foreigners. The FEC continues to not do much about it. [Fast Company]
  • A Lannister always pays his debts. A Gingrich will apparently be forced to do so as well. [Huffington Post]
  • The demonstrated risk of a hostile actor hacking and publishing leaks of correspondence has led to a presidential campaign adopting encrypted messaging. [Vanity Fair]


  • The FBI said that foreign hackers have penetrated the election system of two states. [Yahoo News]
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released open data of 2015 U.S. traffic fatalities online and the Department of Transportation and the White House are asking the public to analyze it. The data is up on here. If you find something meaningful in there, please share it with us — and the world.
  • Speaking of public data, open data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Education provided key context for Ben Casselman’s column on the rising number of students in U.S. schools and falling number of school staff:

    “The 7-year-old economic recovery has not been kind to the American public education system. In May 2008, as the Great Recession was just beginning, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers and other workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This past May, they employed just 8.2 million — despite public-school enrollments that the Department of Education estimated have risen by more than 1 million students during the same period. Student-teacher ratios are as high as they’ve been since the late 1990s, though they’re still well below their levels of the 1980s and most of the 1990s.” [FiveThirtyEight]

  • Here’s a useful resource for journalists — and the general public — about the new rules of civilian use of drones from the Federal Aviation Authority that just came into effect on August 29. (That’s today, folks.) Shelley Hepworth: “There is a digestible summary of the new rules available here and the full text is available here. The main restrictions to be keep in mind are to do with the size of your drone, where you can fly it, how high you can take it, and keeping the drone in your line of sight.” [CJR]
  • Facebook laid off the contractors who maintained the Trending Stories module and then promptly promoted a fake news story. The world’s biggest social network spreading rumors without internal editorial oversight is irresponsible, at best, and actively corrosive to uses and public trust at worst. [The Atlantic]

State and local

screenshot of new DC WMATA public wifi pilot screen dialogue
A screenshot of new DC WMATA public wifi pilot screen dialogue. Credit: WMATA]
  • DC’s beleaguered Metro subway will will offer free public wifi at 6 stations for 45 days, then stop and evaluate the pilot. “As part of the Wi-Fi pilot, customers will also be able to test the new “Where’s My Train?” feature. From the landing page, the Metro Train icon will take customers to an interactive map with real time train information.  Users can tap on the train icon for additional details or click on a station to get train prediction times.” Keep an eye on this initiative, including the data behind it and the data it collects. [WMATA]
  • The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals found that a local sheriff’s raid of a citizen who anonymously blogged about conflicts of interest in local government was unconstitutional. [The Intercept]
  • Timothy Doescher is impressed with the financial transparency embraced by the state of Ohio at “The state treasurer’s office is leading the way in transparency by taking Ohio’s checkbook online, giving citizens an easy way to track spending at all levels of government within the state, and helping Ohio earn the No. 1 ranking in government transparency in the U.S.” [Daily Signal]
  • Chicago’s plans for real-time open data and the Internet of Things made the front page of USA Today today, where Aamer Madhani reported on the first two sensor boxes installed on the Windy City’s streets.

    “The 10-pound, beehive looking boxes — affixed on light poles — are fitted with sensors that will allow the city to measure air and surface temperature, barometric pressure, light, vibration, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone and ambient sound intensity. Two cameras in each sensor box will collect data on vehicle and foot traffic, standing water, sky color and cloud cover.

    The data will be nearly instantly distributed through the city’s website. Data from the first sensor boxes installed are expected to be made available to the public starting in mid-October. A total of 50 sensor boxes, or nodes, will be installed around Chicago by the end of the year, and 450 more will come online by 2018.

    Officials in the nation’s third largest city are optimistic that the project will have in-the-moment utility for residents trying to make decisions about whether to drive or walk an asthmatic child to school or help pedestrians avoid taking desolate routes. For the city, officials believe the sensors will provide a treasure trove of data that will help them make better decisions about infrastructure and health issues in the future. It would be great for every citezen in America to get out there and start some sort of exercise even if it´s really simple like jogging. That´s a really fun activity, you can even take your child with you on a Baby Trend Range Jogging Stroller. [USA Today]

  • Speaking of data, here’s a terrific post on urban design based upon data-driven simulations. SimCity geeks, enjoy! Laura Adler:

    “Although data, analytic capabilities, and accessibility are rapidly expanding, there are important challenges that urban planners, designers, and stakeholders still face. As in other areas of big data, the first of these is the need for systems that can manage and integrate diverse data, pertaining to distinct but interconnected urban systems. Collecting, cleaning, managing, and integrating varied forms of data remains a major challenge.

    More fundamentally, the question of what goes into simulation models—and what gets left out—has important consequences. What might go wrong if a model used for planning residential zones fails to account for the historical legacy and continued reproduction of housing segregation? How might the exclusion of renewable energy sources from transportation planning simulations skew the sense of what is possible for sustainable public transit? Just as important as what we do once we run the simulations are the choices we make when we build them: ensuring that the models underlying these informative experiments represent a balanced and unbiased set of assumptions.” [Data-Smart City Solutions]



  • Iceland has released “Our Kopavogur,” an open source voting app for a  participatory budgeting project. Of note: While anyone can look at it online,  only people in Kópavogur can vote. When asked about how the project handles online authentication, Robert Bjarnason told us that the Icelandic National Registry office has a database of national identities and records of residence that drives the application.

    They provide authentications with a special government username & password, delivered through the online banks, and electronic ID cards on mobile phones and bank cards. This is implemented with SAML2 technology. The National Registry office has also set up an “election filter” that puts limit on who can be authenticated for each election based on where they live and how old they are (16+ years old). Finally, the National Registry office does not provide the cities election databases with the real national ID but an encrypted hash of the ID. This means that the city and nobody else can know who voted for that – and the National Registry office can’t know who voted what either as they don’t have access to the ballot data. This way we have a pretty good solution for both secure and anonymous voting.

  • The Committee to Protect Journalists published a special report on the dangers journalists face in India, where sSince 1992, 27 journalists have been murdered in India with complete impunity.” While some of the recommendations CPJ makes are specific to India, many are broadly applicable to countries around the world, like “condemn publicly and unequivocally all killings of journalists” and “provide sufficient resources and political support to improve the capacity of authorities—including the judiciary, the Central Bureau of Investigation, and the police—to conduct exhaustive and timely investigations and trials relating to crimes against journalists, including freelancers, bloggers, and those who publish news on social media.” [CPJ]
  • Russia is spreading false information online in a variety of contexts, reports Neil MacFarquhar:

    The planting of false stories is nothing new; the Soviet Union devoted considerable resources to that during the ideological battles of the Cold War. Now, though, disinformation is regarded as an important aspect of Russian military doctrine, and it is being directed at political debates in target countries with far greater sophistication and volume than in the past. The flow of misleading and inaccurate stories is so strong that both NATO and the European Union have established special offices to identify and refute disinformation, particularly claims emanating from Russia.

    The Kremlin’s clandestine methods have surfaced in the United States, too, American officials say, identifying Russian intelligence as the likely source of leaked Democratic National Committee emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

    The Kremlin uses both conventional media — Sputnik, a news agency, and RT, a television outlet — and covert channels, as in Sweden, that are almost always untraceable.”

    This is an important story for media, governance and the upcoming election, particularly in the context of the “weaponized transparency” we called out in July, and troubling given the reports of hacks of voting systems.


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