Today in OpenGov: Honesty is the best policy

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In today's edition, Mark Zuckerberg is halfway done with his trip to Capitol Hill, Atlanta announces a new budget transparency effort, a new report takes the Internet's temperature, foreign assistance spending data gets updated, the EPA gets rid of another staffer who pushed back against Scott Pruitt, and more. 

honestly

Image via Issue One.

Yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before a joint session of the Senate Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees. As Kevin Roose and Cecilia Kang recapped in the New York Times, the session "turned into something of a pointed gripe session, with both Democratic and Republican senators attacking Facebook for failing to protect users’ data and stop Russian election interference, and raising questions about whether Facebook should be more heavily regulated." On the question of government-regulation versus self-regulation by the technology industry, Zuckerberg expressed support for at least one effort being pursued in Washington.

Zuckerberg expressed Facebook's support for the Honest Ads Act, which would add much-needed transparency and accountability to online political ads, and more transparency for ads overall. Yesterday, Twitter also publicly expressed its support for the bipartisan, bicameral bill, which they had previously declined to endorse. While Google has been working on adding a public political ad file to its transparency reports, it has not publicly come out for the bill.

Sunlight believes that there needs to be a level playing field for transparency and accountability online for all of the Internet platforms, and that can only come with Congressional action. Self-regulation is not enough, which is why we helped write the Honest Ads Act and continue to support it. Our friends at Issue One agree and want to make sure that everyone understands exactly what the Honest Ads Act would and wouldn't do

  • Help ProPublica keep Facebook honest right now. ProPublica has regularly investigated controversies at Facekbook "involving abusive ad targetinghousing and employment discrimination and hate speech." They watched yesterday's hearing and responded with some takeaways and follow up questions, including a reminder that you can help them track political ads on Facebook using their Political Ad Collector browser extension. 
  • Facebook's previous work in Washington may help shield them from significant backlash. In advance of yesterday's hearing, Allan Holmes and Jared Bennett explained that "Mark Zuckerberg may look like a lonely figure when he sits down today to face grilling from a joint Senate committee about privacy and election interference. But in reality, he’ll be far from alone — because his company, Facebook, has in just a few short years built a massive lobbying entourage of Washington power brokers. And that influence — along with Zuckerberg’s expected mea culpa — may be enough, privacy experts say, to blunt any talk of significant consumer privacy regulations meant to reign in Facebook and other tech giants, regardless of the angry bluster Zuckerberg endures on Capitol Hill both today and tomorrow." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) propose "privacy bill of rights." "Two Democratic US senators today proposed a "privacy bill of rights" that would prevent Facebook and other websites from sharing or selling sensitive information without a customer's opt-in consent and requiring Facebook to step up it’s customer support to users who have question’s about such data sharin. The proposed law would protect customers' Web browsing and application usage history, private messages, and any sensitive personal data such as financial and health information." (Ars Technica)

states and cities

A screenshot of the newly redesigned New Republican PAC's website.
  • Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) faces FEC complaint over his PAC. "Less than 24 hours after Rick Scott announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, he faces a Federal Election Commission complaint accusing him of breaking election laws by raising and spending unlimited campaign donations to prepare for his senate campaign…The Democratic leaning group End Citizens United alleges in its new FEC complaint that Scott's New Republican PAC was merely a means for Scott to skirt federal restrictions on unlimited donations and corporate donations while he put the pieces in place to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson." (Tampa Bay Times)
  • Atlanta details plans for more open city spending data. "In an effort to be more transparent, the city of Atlanta will stand up a public Internet portal this spring to show where and how the municipality spends its money, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced April 10. The portal, to be known as Atlanta Open Checkbook, is similar to examples already online in Austin and Dallas, Texas, in Washington, D.C., and in Massachussetts." (Government Technology) Our view? Atlanta’s commitment to improving spending transparency is laudable. We hope the city follows through on the promise — and opens up more of its data to the public it serves.
  • Arkansas public records panel opposes proposed tweaks that would roll back FOI in the state. "The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Task Force on Monday voted on four proposed tweaks to the public-records law, erring on the side of more disclosure and transparency in each case…The task force endorsed, with two dissenters, the proposal in HB1225 that would repeal an exemption for tax records of hotels and restaurants collected for local advertising and promotion commissions. Task force members unanimously voted against the other three bills that would create new exemptions or extend the amount of time government entities may take before releasing certain records." (Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

around the world

Screenshot of the Internet Health Report via Ars Technica.
  • Explore the health of the Internet with this new report. Mozilla Foundation Executive Director writes, "today marks the launch of Mozilla’s first full edition of theInternet Health Report, an open source effort to explore the state of human life on the internet…The internet is an ecosystem that humans build. It’s people who decide what it is and isn’t. It’s up to all of us to envision – and create – something healthy and humane." (Mozilla Foundation) Explore the full report here.
  • Following Hungarian election, key opposition supporter and media magnate shuts down print and radio outlets. "A former Hungarian government ally-turned-opposition supporter shut down most of his news empire, in a sign that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s overwhelming election victory may further weaken independent media. Magyar Nemzet, a national daily newspaper established in 1938, said on its website Tuesday that it was working on its last edition. Lanchid radio, which belongs to the same media group owned by Lajos Simicska, also said it would shut down due to lack of financing." (Bloomberg)
  • Open Government Week is scheduled for May 7-11 around the world. To our north, the Canadian government has been encouraging public participation. We're disappointed to say that, to date, the United States government has not done the same. You can learn more and get involved on the Open Gov Week website.

washington watch


 
  • Foreignassistance.gov updates its budget data. You can access Fiscal Year 2019 data now on foreignassistance.gov. Our take? We're glad to see this federal agency proactively engaging and informing the public about how taxpayer funds are being spent to support peace, security, development, and provide humanitarian relief.
  • Office of Government Information Services shares FOIA Advisory Committee Recommendations. The Draft Final Report and Recommendations from the latest FOIA Advisory Committee meeting are now available via the OGIS website.
  • GAO finds that NASA is slow to make decisions on whistleblower reprisal cases involving contractors. "A government watchdog agency concluded that NASA has not been making final decisions on whistleblower reprisal investigations involving contractors on a timely basis, and has no defined process to ensure prompt action. In a report released Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office found that while NASA’s inspector general office completed all of its six investigations into allegations of whistleblower reprisals brought by contractors from 2008 until June 2017 within required timeframes, not once did the NASA administrator issue a final determination within the required 30 days." (Government Executive)

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  • Judge throws out case against President Trump over his financial disclosures. "A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit claiming that President Donald Trump's financial disclosures are inadequate because they blur the lines between his personal debts and those owed by the businesses he owns. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled Tuesday that the Ethics in Government Act and applicable regulations issued by the Office of Government Ethics permit government employees to combine their debts in such disclosures." (POLITICO)
  • Head of Sinclair Broadcasting met with President Trump, told him "we are here to deliver your message." "The chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group met Donald Trump at the White House during a visit to pitch a potentially lucrative new product to administration officials, the Guardian has learned" In an interview Sinclair's leader David D Smith "also recalled an earlier meeting with Trump during the 2016 election campaign, where he told the future president: 'We are here to deliver your message.'" (The Guardian)
  • EPA removes career official who OK'd report critical of Administrator Scott Pruitt's security spending. "EPA removed a career staffer Tuesday who approved an internal report that undermined Administrator Scott Pruitt's claims that he needed around-the-clock bodyguards and other expensive security protection, according to two former agency employees familiar with the situation. Mario Caraballo was the deputy associate administrator of EPA's Office of Homeland Security, which in February concluded that an earlier assessment failed to identify credible direct threats against the administrator that would justify his heavy security spending." (POLITICO)
     

 

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