Today in OpenGov: The swamp drains you


In today's edition, need for the Honest Ads Act is highlighted, Americans are in favor of rolling back Citizens United, the latest Trump administration conflicts of interest, Ohio votes against partisan gerrymandering, blockchain is considered as a transparency tool, and more. 

honesty is the best policy

The Honest Ads Act being introduced in the Senate by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

On Thursday, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee published more than 3,500 Russian-backed Facebook ads. "A trove of thousands of Russian-backed Facebook ads, being made public for the first time, shows that Russia’s main goal was provoking discontent in the U.S., leading to and continuing beyond Donald Trump’s election in 2016. The ads, which are one of the clearest demonstrations of Russia’s financial investment in disrupting American politics, have been much discussed by Congress, Facebook and Special Counsel Robert Mueller behind closed doors." (Bloomberg)

Our friends at Issue One responded to the release with a renewed call for passage of the bipartisan Honest Ads Act. Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee argued, "if online ad disclosure requirements had been law, we would have already seen these ads in near real-time and that some were paid for in rubles. And law enforcement officials would have seen they were illegal because spending foreign money in U.S. elections is illegal. The bipartisan Honest Ads Act would directly address this loophole." 

Meanwhile, at The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal explained "a new report from Upturn, a progressive policy group focused on the tech industry," which shows that Facebook's early efforts at building their own tools to provide transparency around political ads "don't provide the depth of information or access necessary to hold advertisers accountable.

As we've argued before, self-regulation by social media companies is not enough. Congress should pass the Honest Ads Act and bring much-needed transparency and accountability to online political ads. 

elsewhere in washington

The Federal Election Commission headquarters in Washington, DC. 
  • The FEC says that candidates can use campaign funds to help with child care expenses. "The Federal Election Commission ruled Thursday that a candidate can use campaign funds to pay for child care. The FEC ruled in favor of Liuba Grechen Shirley, who is running in New York’s 2nd District and requested an advisory opinion last month on her request to use her campaign funds to pay for child care for her young children while she was involved in campaign activities." (Roll Call)
  • New study shows wide majority of Americans in favor of rolling back Citizens United via a constitutional amendment. "Liberals and conservatives overwhelmingly support a constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s seminal campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, according to a new study from the University of Maryland and nonpartisan research group Voice of the People." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • New Gmail features spark public records concerns. "At the end of April, Google announced several Gmail updates, including a new feature that would allow users to remove the option to forward, copy, download or print messages. It also offers senders the option to create expiration dates or revoke previously sent messages. This caught the attention of National Freedom of Information Coalition, which advocates for access to public records and information. The organization's board President Mal Leary sent an open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai warning of the new feature's unintended consequences." (GCN)
  • FCC sets June 11 as net neutrality repeal date. "The repeal of net neutrality rules will finally take effect on June 11, six months after the Federal Communications Commission voted to eliminate the rules that prohibit Internet service providers from blocking and throttling lawful Internet traffic…The repeal vote was in December 2017, but it was contingent on US Office of Management and Budget [OMB] approval of modified information collection requirements. Pai could have allowed the primary portions of the repeal to take effect earlier, but he decided to wait for the OMB to sign off on a new version of the transparency rules that require ISPs to publicly disclose network management practices." (Ars Technica)


Michael Cohen gives a speech in support of then-candidate Donald Trump in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in January 2017. Credit: Michael Cohen YouTube channel.
  • How Michael Cohen's consulting sideline was both normal and abnormal for Washington, DC. Henry Grabar writes, "The president’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been operating a secret Washington consultancy, accepting payments from major corporations and other entities. Is this normal? In some ways, experts say, it is." Specifically, Cohen broke from tradition by not setting up shop as a lobbyist. (Slate) Our take? Campaign finance regulation has eroded quite a bit over the past 20 years. Michael Cohen's 'Essential Consultants' pushed that process forward another 20. 
  • Meanwhile, Public Citizen asks the Justice Department to investigate Cohen for failing to comply with lobbying rules. "A nonprofit watchdog group on Thursday asked Congress and the Justice Department to investigate whether Michael Cohen, a personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, broke the law by accepting money last year from companies with business before the administration without disclosing it. In a letter delivered Thursday, Public Citizen asked investigators to examine whether Cohen failed to comply with laws requiring lobbyists and foreign agents to disclose their business dealings." (POLITICO)
  • White House announces new committee on artificial intelligence. "The White House announced Thursday that it will establish a panel of federal government officials to look at artificial intelligence (AI) issues. The Trump administration announced the new Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence on the same day that it held a major AI summit with business leaders in Washington. The AI panel will include officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The committee’s representatives will also include officials from the National Security Council (NSC), the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)." (The Hill) Our take? While AI has a wide range of potentially beneficial applications, it is vital for this newly announced committee — and anyone else involved in the AI field — to give proper consideration to questions of discrimination, ethics, and transparency that go along with innovation.
  • This week's Trump related conflicts include Cohen, Qatar, and political committees. Lynn Walsh checks in with her weekly roundup of Trump administration conflicts of interest, including "new information surfaces about payments made to President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, Qatar purchases a $6.5 million apartment in New York’s Trump Tower, and a look at how much money is being spent by political insiders at President Trump’s private club in South Florida." (Sunlight Foundation)  

states and cities

  • As the race to be the next New York attorney general heats up, one candidate may be hindered by her campaign finance history. "A source familiar with Rep. Kathleen Rice's thinking confirmed to Crain's that the lawmaker is 'very seriously considering' running for New York attorney general, a post Eric Schneiderman vacated Tuesday amid allegations of domestic abuse. But if she does, potential violations of federal campaign finance rules could hamper her candidacy. As Nassau County district attorney, Rice lost the 2010 Democratic primary to Schneiderman but won election to Congress four years later. Yet she never deactivated her district attorney campaign account, and has continued to use it to pay for ads, consulting and donations to local Democratic organizations that have worked to get her re-elected to the House of Representatives. (Crain's New York Business)
  • Kansas Legislature votes to boost transparency around student fee deliberations. "If Gov. Jeff Colyer signs the latest budget bill passed by the Kansas legislature, Wichita State will have to open its student fees deliberations next year. The Kansas Legislature sent a budget bill to Colyer with an amendment that will require Wichita State, and five other regent universities receiving state funds, to hold open deliberations and provide access to documents related to student fees." (The Sunflower)
  • Ohio voters approve bipartisan gerrymandering ballot measure. "Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot proposal Tuesday to reform the state’s redistricting process by requiring bipartisan cooperation in making new maps. After polls closed, three-quarters of votes counted backed the ballot initiative. The measure asked voters if they wanted to amend the state constitution to require bipartisanship while drawing new congressional districts." (Roll Call)

around the world

Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
  • Putin aligned party prepares crackdown following inauguration day protests. "The pro-Kremlin United Russia party is proposing new laws to crack down on dissent after nationwide protests took place against Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a record fourth term as president." (Bloomberg)
  • Israel, France look at blockchain to boost governance transparency. "Blockchain is moving into the world's political systems, with several influential political figures in Israel and France recently emerging as new believers in the technology. They are betting on blockchain for more transparent governance and have joined the decentralized platform developed by Coalichain. Among the seven Israeli politicians to endorse the platform are former deputy minister and interior minister Eli Yishay, deputy defense minister Eli Ben-Dan, and HaBait HaYehudi leader Shulamit Mualem-Refaeli. The move for a more accountable democracy has also been supported by Frederic Lefebvre, the founder of French political party Agir." (Cryptovest)
  • Facebook and Google plan to ban foreign ads ahead of Irish abortion vote. Mark Brodie explains that "Facebook says it will ban foreign ads related to Ireland’s referendum on abortion later this month. Google also plans to suspend all advertising in advance of the vote. Both companies are concerned about foreign interference in the election, which, of course, has also been a concern here in the U.S." Sunlight's Executive Director John Wonderlich joined KJZZ to talk about the news. Our take? The moves are an important first step, but also totally insufficient to the scope of foreign interference in global elections.


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