Today in OpenGov: FEC to re-open public comment on online ads


In today's look at open government news, we're looking for information on how cities use federal data, California pushes for presidential tax transparency, an important piece of open data legislation moves closer to becoming law, and much more. 


  • California legislature approves presidential tax transparency bill. "The California State Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that would require all presidential candidates to release their tax returns prior to being placed on the state’s ballot. The bill, called the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, passed the state assembly on a 42-18 vote and will now head to the state Senate for a concurrence vote before being sent to the Governor for his signature." (The Hill)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement limits information about major program under Trump administration. ICE commonly asks local police to hold undocumented immigrants "after their sentences end so its agents can pick them up and deport them," reports Ana Campoy. According to "The Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, which gathers such information through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests…until January ICE was giving it details about these people, including their criminal history and whether they were ultimately arrested or deported. All TRAC is getting now is the number of detainers requested." (Government Executive)
  • Mining industry, which has already benefited from Trump administration decisions, to host conference at Trump hotel. Lee Fang and Nick Surgey report that the National Mining Association "board of directors meeting, which takes place October 3-4, is yet the latest example of a special interest group spending thousands of dollars on a property owned directly by the Trump family. The Trump International charges over $800 a night for the days the mining event is scheduled." Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is slated to speak at the meeting. (The Intercept)

states and cities

Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer for the City of Chicago, at the UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory. Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil via Flickr.
  • Does your city rely on federal data? Tell us about it! Cities increasingly rely on data to make public policy decisions based on empirical evidence, and that’s a good thing. It’s not just city-level data that they use, however. Many cities rely on data from the federal government to gain a more comprehensive understanding their residents’ needs. If you work in a city hall and use federal datasets, we want to hear from you. We are conducting a survey of city employees about the federal data they rely on most. We are proud to be partnering with DataLensDC to conduct this survey. It only takes a few minutes to complete, and your answers are confidential. Take the survey now!
  • Fighting food deserts in Maryland with the power of maps. The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future partnered with the city of Baltimore to "14 maps that break down food deserts and grocery locations by each council district." According to this report by Natalie Delgadillo, "using the maps, the city started offering tax credits in 2016 to food retailers who open or renovate stores in or near food deserts. Shortly after the incentive passed, a grocery store opened in East Baltimore in an area that was previously a designated food desert." (Governing)
  • As Hurricane Irma approached, MIT launched a real-time, crowd-sourced flood reporting platform. The "free, open-source platform [aimed to] help residents and government officials track flooding in Broward County, Florida. The platform,, is being piloted to enable both residents and emergency managers to obtain better information on flooding conditions in near-real time." (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Washington news organizations sue state legislature for lawmakers' calendars and work related texts. "It shouldn’t be necessary, but 10 news organizations, including The Spokesman-Review, are suing the Washington Legislature because it won’t release information that other politicians must divulge. Under an effort spearheaded by the Associated Press earlier this year, news outlets requested copies of all 147 lawmakers’ calendars documenting their official schedules and work-related text messages." (Spokesman-Review via NFOIC)

washington watch

Image by Sarah Whitmire/Center for Public Integrity
  • FEC will re-open online comments on Internet ad disclosure, but more action is needed. FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, writing in the Washington Post, explained that at yesterday's open meeting of the FEC, "the commission unanimously decided to re-open the written comment period on what sorts of disclaimers Internet advertising ought to have. That’s the good news. The bad news is: The FEC’s Republican commissioners will agree to hold a hearing only if we receive enough substantive written comments." She also argued that "for our democracy to work, the American people need to know that the ads they see on their computer screens and in their social media feeds aren’t paid for by Russia or other foreign countries." (Washington Post)
  • Facebook is facing even more scrutiny after ProPublica found that anti-Semites could be targeted using its ad tools. "'Standards' and 'guardrails' are aspirations," noted Sunlight's John Wonderlich, highlighting absentee ownership at the world's largest social network. "If your standard is to display ads and target segments with no human review, you don't get to then claim they don't meet your standards." Read the whole story on ProPublica.
  • The OPEN Government Data Act looks like it will become law. The bill, which we strongly support, was incorporated as an amendment to the Senate's FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA, with the OPEN Government Data Act attached, is expected to pass through Congress and be signed by President Trump. Read more about the bill and what it means for open government data via our friends at the Data Coalition
  • RT America has to register as a foreign agent. Here's what that means. "RT America announced this week that the Justice Department has asked the company that distributes its content to register as a foreign agent…The DOJ’s request has highlighted Russia’s efforts to get its own political message out in the United States — activities that are broadly of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigates Russian meddling in last year’s election." Megan R. Wilson highlights seven important things to know about this story. (The Hill)

save the dates

  • September 19th, 1:00 pm EST: Tactical Data Engagement Kickoff Discussion, Webinar. Join the Sunlight Foundation for the official launch of Tactical Data Engagement, a guide to help cities facilitate the impactful use of open data by collaborating with communities. As part of the launch we’ll be hosting a kickoff conversation about the guide and the tactical engagement process. Join us on September 19 at 1 PM EDT for a free webinar. Hear from Sunlight's Open Cities experts, who have worked with dozens of cities on the ideas outlined in the guide. Participants are welcome and encouraged to bring questions about the ways open data could be used to help solve their own city's challenges. Register for the Webinar here
  • September 23rd: Populist Plutocrats, lessons from around the world, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This one-day conference, co-sponsored by Harvard Law School and the Stigler Center, will focus on an important and dangerous political phenomenon: the “populist plutocrat.” The populist plutocrat is a leader who exploits the cultural and economic grievances of poorer, less-educated voters against traditional elites in order to achieve and retain power, but who, once in office, seem substantially or primarily interested in enriching him- or herself, along with a relatively small circle of family members, cronies, and allies." Learn more here
  • September 26th: Data Transparency 2017, in Washington, DC. Hosted by the Data Foundation, "Data Transparency 2017 is Washington's largest open data event, bringing together government leaders, transparency advocates, and the technology industry to explore how technology can transform government, compliance, and the private sector." Learn more and get your tickets here.
  • September 28th: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information, Paris, France. "The 'IPDCtalks' will be held to highlight and elaborate on the importance of Access to Information for all sustainable development efforts around the world. It will consist of a series of attractive and dynamic talks from global public leaders, top journalists, young intellectuals and community leaders. While some of the speakers will elaborate on the key role of Access to Information for the achievement of a particular Sustainable Development Goal, others will reflect on the essential role of Access to Information for our society and future." You can learn more on the event website. If you're interested, but can't attend the event will be broadcast live on the web.
  • September 28th – 30th: CityCampNC, Raleigh, North Carolina. "CityCampNC, part of NC Open Pass, is an annual event that brings citizens, public servants, academia, and businesses together to openly innovate and improve our communities in partnership with government." This year, Sunlight's Open Cities Director Stephen Larrick will be giving the keynote address at CityCampNC. Learn more and register to attend here
  • October 13th – 14th: 2017 FOI Summit, Nashville, Tennessee. "Music City USA becomes home for NFOIC, state FOI coalitions and open government advocates for the 2017 FOI Summit on Friday and Saturday, October 13-14, 2017.The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and our host, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government will convene the annual summit at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University." You can learn more and register here
  • November 7th and 8th: The Harvard Summit on Data-Smart Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The "first-ever Harvard Summit on Data-Smart Government [is] presented by the Civic Analytics Network (CAN), a peer group of leading Chief Data Officers from America’s largest cities working to advance the use of data analytics in municipal government. At the Summit, you will learn about the ways data is reshaping how cities across the country work and hear from expert speakers including CAN Director Stephen Goldsmith, author of The Responsive City and Director of Harvard’s Innovations in Government program. Conference participants will be able to take part in training and workshops to gather practical knowledge about how to transform city services and government through the use of data and attend sessions on topics including how cities can leverage data for public safety, mobility, inspections, and more." You can learn more and register here, note that registration closes on October 6th. 


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