Today in OpenGov: Private prisons lobby their way out of detention


In today's edition, promises of transparency at Twitter, private prisons get their groove back, HHS fights the opioid crisis with data, election drama in Kenya continues, lobbyists kill broadband privacy rules in California, and more.

twitter transparency…

In yesterday's newsletter, we highlighted Twitter's move towards self-imposed transparency around online ads. While a step in the right direction, it's clear that voluntary changes by one company fail to address the fundamental issue: disclosure and disclaimers for online political ads should be law.

Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner, two of the Honest Ads Act's cosponsors, took to Twitter to explain the underlying need for their legislation. As Senator Klobuchar put it, "Americans deserve to know no matter what platform they're on."

Meanwhile, Meredith McGehee, director of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, dug into the context surrounding Twitter's decision and the issue more broadly, arguing that self-regulation "is simply not an acceptable course…the companies could change their minds at any moment!

We'll be keeping a close eye on Twitter's efforts at transparency and the Honest Ads Act as it moves through Congress.

washington watch

Image credit Sarah Stierch
  • HHS to host code-a-thon aimed at fighting opioid epidemic. "Nearly 100 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, and some experts worry the death toll could increase. In this environment of crisis, the Department of Health and Human Services is gearing up to host a code-a-thon aimed at developing tools to combat the epidemic." (FedScoop) While the event might reveal useful insights or approaches, the Trump Administration has been slow to allocate more resources and to act to address the opioid epidemic in 2017. (USA Today)
  • Two aides to Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) charged in payoff scheme. "Federal prosecutors accused Ken Smukler, 57, and Donald “D.A.” Jones, 62, of making illegal campaign contributions on behalf of their boss and conspiring to hide the money in the campaign finance reports of his rival, former Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore." Brady's lawyer was quick to emphasize that the Representative has not been charged. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Puerto Rico requests review of $300 million contract awarded to 2 man energy company. "The governor of Puerto Rico is requesting an audit into how a small energy company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Montana hometown won a multimillion-dollar contract to restore power to Puerto Rico." (The Hill)


President Trump signs Executive Order 13777, "Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda." Thanks for POGO for the photo via 
  • President Trump mandated a sweeping regulatory review effort. So far, it has been clouded in secrecy. "Given the importance of this issue to the administration, one might expect agencies to create a great deal of fanfare around their efforts, tout the experience and expertise of those working on the task forces, and post on agency websites details on meetings, findings, and background information. The reality is that agencies are conducting the regulatory reviews in secret. Most agencies aren’t forthcoming about who is serving on the task forces or when the task forces are meeting." Sean Moulton digs deep into the story for the Project on Government Oversight
  • Private prisons are getting their groove back under Trump thanks to lobbying, campaign spending. The private prison industry, which faced significant setbacks during the Obama administration is gaining momentum during the Trump presidency. How? Dean DeChiaro dug into lobbying records and found that the GEO Group "one of the country’s largest private prison companies is spending record amounts on lobbying amid efforts by the Trump administration to detain more undocumented immigrants, federal records show." (Roll Call) Meanwhile, Amy Brittain and Drew Harwell tracked the GEO group's campaign spending in addition to its lobbying outlays. They also reported that this year the company, for the first time, held its annual leadership conference at "a Miami-area golf resort owned by President Trump. The event last week, during which executives and wardens gathered for four days of meetings, dinner receptions and golf outings at the luxurious 800-acre Trump National Doral, followed an intense effort by GEO Group to align itself with the president and his administration." (Washington Post)

around the world

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Image credit AMISOM Public Information
  • Kenyan re-vote proceeds despite opposition boycott. "Kenyans voted in a presidential-election rerun that President Uhuru Kenyatta is guaranteed of winning after his main rival withdrew, as protests erupted in some opposition strongholds. Early turnout was much lower than the previous election on Aug. 8, with only handfuls of people arriving at polling stations in the capital, Nairobi, when they opened at 6 a.m. to cast their ballots." The election was being repeated following a Supreme Court ruling which overturned the initial result due to illegal and irregular actions by Kenya's Electoral Commission. (Bloomberg)
  • Disinformation is not new to politics, but new technologies enhance its threat to democracy. Frieda Arenos explains that, "while disinformation is not new and has been used for years to turn the tides of policy in the favor of its perpetrators, developments with respect to social media, big data, and artificial intelligence mean that disinformation now poses a very different type of threat to democracy." (NDI DemocracyWorks Blog)
  • For second time, Brazilian President avoids a corruption trial. "Brazil President Michel Temer survived a second attempt to try him for corruption with a victory in the lower house that allows him to cling to power until his term ends in December 2018." (Bloomberg)

states and cities

  • Lobbying campaign helped kill California's online privacy efforts. "When a California state legislator proposed new broadband privacy rules that would mirror the federal rules previously killed by Congress, broadband industry lobbyists got to work. The lobbyists were successful in convincing the state legislature to let the bill die without passage last month, leaving Internet users without stronger rules protecting the privacy of their Web browsing histories." (Ars Technica)
  • Three mayors explain how technology is helping enable citizen engagement. The mayors of Austin, Texas, Louisville, Kentucky, and Raleigh, North Carolina explain that their cities were "were recognized by Next Century Cities for our efforts to use next-generation broadband to improve civic engagement. As winners of the inaugural Benton Next Generation Engagement Award, we were excited to launch projects that foster civic participation in our cities, especially for residents who have previously lacked access to broadband and digital tools to connect with government." They dig into the resulting projects on Government Technology.


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