Today in OpenGov: Bipartisan backing for online ad disclosure


In today’s edition, we share big news about online political ad disclosure, argue that government algorithms need more transparency, note two Trump nominees express their support for open data, highlight a new report that aims to estimate the costs of open government programs, and much more.

BIPARTISAN support for online ad disclosure

  • Senators to introduce bipartisan online political ad disclosure legislation today. As reported by Quartz last night,  The Hill and Bloomberg this morning, and summarized by Axios this morning, the cat is finally out of the bag: the bill that we’ve been working with staff from the offices of Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will be officially shared with the public today. Mike Allen and Quartz are overfocusing on Facebook, though: the Honest Ads Act would mandate that technology companies disclose a public file of political ads purchased on their platforms, not just the world’s largest social media company. The bill would subject political ads on social media networks to the same transparency requirements as TV and radio ads. You can watch the introduction online at 12:40 PM ET.
  • Technology companies are lobbying against more online political ad transparency. They’re on the wrong side of history. You can expect Sunlight and our allies to standing up for more transparency and accountability in our political system, as we have for the past decade. (New York Times)
  • New report sheds light on the online ad disclosure problem, recommends reforms.Illuminating Dark Digital Politics: Campaign Finance Disclosure for the 21st Century, written by Hamsini Sridharan of MapLight and Ann Ravel, former Chair of the Federal Election Commission, outlines a brief history of campaign finance disclosure in relation to the internet; examines trends in political advertising and campaigning online; and explains why additional regulation is necessary to ensure transparency for political spending online while promoting democratic speech.” (MapLight)
  • Professor explains how online ads and micro-targeting damage democracy. Seth Copen Goldstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, explains how, before “the Web, big data and machine learning, political groups and campaigns reached their target audiences through mass media — newspapers, radio and television. Most everyone saw the same news reports and advertisements at the same times. As a result, the public shared a common base of knowledge about what political candidates were saying. No longer.” (Government Technology)

washington watch

A scene from the floor of the 2016 Republican National Convention. Image via VOA News.
  • Secret corporate cash bankrolled swank lounge for lawmakers at 2016 Republican Convention. Carrie Levine reports that, despite then candidate Trump’s acceptance speech screed against corporate cash, “behind the scenes, several major corporations and trade groups secretly bankrolled a plush hideaway for lawmakers at the same Republican National Convention in Cleveland where Trump gave the speech, records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity show.” (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Congress and the FBI are already looking into fraud tied to Puerto Rico relief funds. “A congressional committee is investigating potential abuse of federal funds and resources provided to local municipalities in Puerto Rico, citing red flags raised by the FBI.” (Government Executive)
  • Opaque government algorithms have a growing grip on citizens’ lives. “Public agencies responsible for areas such as criminal justice, health, and welfare increasingly use scoring systems and software to steer or make decisions on life-changing events like granting bail, sentencing, enforcement, and prioritizing services. The report from AI Now, a research institute at NYU that studies the social implications of artificial intelligence, says too many of those systems are opaque to the citizens they hold power over.” (Wired) You can read the report here. Our take? Governments should ensure public sector algorithms used to make decisions or deliver services are just, ethical, equitable, & transparent.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Image Credit Gage Skidmore.
  • In testimony before Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions declines to guarantee administration won’t jail journalists. In response to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) the Attorney General stated that he could not “make a blanket commitment” to not jail journalists for doing their jobs. (The Hill)
  • House Oversight Chairman threatens to subpoena travel documents from DoJ, USDA. “House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy on Wednesday threatened to subpoena the Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture for failing to adequately respond to a bipartisan inquiry on the use of private jets by senior officials.” (POLITICO)
  • Where is the leftover money from President Trump’s inauguration? That’s the question being asked by a number of civic groups and academics including Public Citizen, Common Cause, Democracy 21, and more. They “sent a letter to Trump and his inaugural committee asking what happened to the leftover funds and calling for them to be given to the U.S. Treasury.” (Public Citizen) Read the letter here.
  • Trump picks to lead GSA and OPM pledge commitment to open data during Senate hearing. “Emily Webster Murphy, nominated to lead the General Services Administration, and Jeff Pon, the White House’s choice for the Office of Personnel Management head, both sketched out broad technology goals during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs confirmation hearing, which include doubling down on open data programs and providing better cybersecurity training for employees.” (NextGov)

around the world

A graphic from the new Results for Development and World Bank report. Thanks to DemocracySpot for posting the image and drawing our attention to the report.
  • Estimating the costs of open government reforms. Results for Development and The World Bank just published a new report, “Priceless? A new framework for estimating the costs of open government reforms.” The report outlines a framework to estimate the full costs of open government programs and then uses it to asses open government programs in Ukraine and Sierra Leone.
  • New survey finds broad support for open government programs globally. A new survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore indicates that open government initiatives are viewed favorably by citizens across the globe, with 78% of respondents saying that open government data can help improve lives. You can read the whole report here.
  • Australian competition celebrates innovative uses of open data. “Renewable energy and science education entries have won Geoscience Australia-sponsored GovHack awards announced over the weekend at the 2017 GovHack Red Carpet Awards in Brisbane. GovHack is a cross-Tasman competition that encourages technical innovation using freely-available government data.” (OpenGov Asia)
  • Former Pakistan PM Sharif indicted on corruption charges. “Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was indicted Thursday over allegations that he and his family used offshore holding companies to buy luxury properties in London — charges stemming from the Panama Papers leaks in 2016.” Sharif was removed from his position earlier this year by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. (Washington Post)
  • Two former Slovak ministers sentenced on corruption charges. “A special Slovak court sent two former government ministers to prison for corruption, the first-ever jail sentence handed to a top-level politician in this eastern European Union member state.” (Bloomberg)


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