Today in OpenGov: Honest ads and algorithmic transparency


In today's edition, we follow up on the introduction of the Honest Ads Act, continue to track fallout from the Supreme Court's decision to weaken the definition of public corruption, attend a Civic ScopeAthon (and explain what that means), and much more. 

more on the honest ads act

Yesterday, we celebrated the Honest Ads Act, which was introduced on a bipartisan basis in the Senate and House of Representatives. 

Years of gridlock and lobbying have left political ads in the dark online, however, just as increased political advertising on Internet platforms has taken on unprecedented scale, influence and relevance to our politics. That “Internet blind spot” should change, as we explained in September, and now there’s bipartisan legislation that would add much-needed transparency to online platforms that run paid political advertising: the Honest Ads Act.

Read more on our blog

  • Despite the good news, we see significant headwinds for online political transparency around the world. Sunlight's executive director John Wonderlich explains that, despite reason to be optimistic, we shouldn't be too sanguine "because the common sense measures that comprise the Honest Ads Act are an important bulwark for a campaign finance regulatory system that has been eroded and attacked for decades." (Sunlight Foundation)

washington watch

Image via the Library of Congress.
  • Library of Congress Labs launches Congressional Data Challenge. The competition asks participants to use publicly available data from and other platforms for projects that analyze, interpret, or share congressional data in new ways. The competition is being run through and the winner will receive a $5,000 grand prize. (FedScoop)
  • The Federal FOIA Advisory Committee met yesterday. "Highlights from the meeting include a reminder that OMB has – by all visible accounts – yet to take any action on the recommendation of the previous session of the Advisory Committee: that it updates its fee guidance, which currently dates from 1987 and is missing a key word." Lauren Harper has a full recap at the NSArchive.
  • Fallout from Supreme Court decision on public corruption threatens public institutions. The Supreme Court's decision in McDonnell v. United States last year, which narrowed the legal definition of public corruption, "like a series of others from the Court in recent years, recast actions once eschewed in politics as reasonable behavior for elected officials. The justices have portrayed these rulings as necessary on First Amendment grounds. But the long-term effects could imperil the public’s faith in democratic institutions." (The Atlantic) The Sunlight Foundation expressed our concerns at the time of the McDonnell decision and will continue to track how the Supreme Court's decisions open the door wide for public corruption. 

states and cities

A packed room at South Side Civic's Civic ScopeAthon. 
  • A Chicago Civic ScopeAthon aims to identify problems facing civic organizations. Sunlighters Katya Abazajian and Stephen Larrick filed a report from South Side Civic's Civic ScopeAthon. The idea behind the event, they wrote, "is that data and tech problem-solving for public good doesn’t work without community organizations at the table to share and discuss community issues. In Chicago, facilitators guided data-savvy volunteers through the process of listening and understanding the local context that these community partners provide before delving into technical or data-driven solutions." (Sunlight Foundation
  • Hearing on algorithmic transparency reveals tension in NYC tech community. Jessica McKenzie has the story from a hearing on New York City Council Member James Vacca's "proposed legislation for transparency in the use of algorithms for city services. Vacca said that the legislation is, to the best of his knowledge, the first of its kind in the United States. Although most of the testimony was in favor of the proposed legislation, the hearing revealed a schism between the tech community as represented by the trade nonprofit Tech.NYC—whose dozens of members include giants like Facebook and Google, as well as smaller companies like Meetup and Civic Hall—and the technologists who testified as individuals." (Civicist) The Sunlight Foundation supports efforts to ensure that public sector algorithms used to make decisions or deliver services are just, ethical, equitable, & transparent.
  • Bethlehem, Pennsylvania adopts open data ordinance. Earlier this week, the Bethlehem City Council "unanimously adopted an ordinance establishing an open data program and an open data online portal, a move council members say will make city government more transparent for constituents and perhaps lead to greater efficiency in service delivery and more economic development." (The Morning Call)

around the world

The European Parliament's chamber in Strasbourg, France. Image Credit David Iliff
  • Why the European Parliament doesn't want to be transparent about its members expenses. "If EU lawmakers were forced to declare how they spend their monthly expenses, they would be criticized so much that they could struggle to do their job, a lawyer representing the European Parliament said Thursday." (POLITICO)
  • Did dark money play a role in Brexit? That's the question being asked by one member of the House of Commons. Following a series of news reports, a labour party lawmaker issued calls for the UK to investigate "whether 'dark money' played a role in the 2016 Brexit referendum." (Bloomberg)

one sentence or less

  • New Jersey towns are pushing back against efforts to update the state's open government laws. (NFOIC)
  • SEC proposes its first expansion of open corporate data in close to a decade. (Data Coalition)
  • Next month in North Carolina you can run a 5k along the border of two gerrymandered congressional districts. (Election Law Blog)
  • Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer is trying to use his leverage to push for Trump's impeachment. (The Hill)


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