Today in OpenGov: There can be only one


In today's edition, Facebook struggles with its political ad transparency rules, Florida struggles with its political ad transparency rules, President Trump doesn't care about phone security, a new measurement guide for the Open Data Charter, and more. 

washington watch

  • Facing backlash, Twitter pulls back on plan to include news organizations in new ad transparency rules. "The company came up with a policy that puts news publishers in the same category as political publishers for the purposes of its new ad-transparency efforts. Facebook told media organizations they would have to verify their identities and have any ads promoting stories about politics placed in a public database, just like political campaigns would. Within hours of a Bloomberg News report on the initiative and criticism from news organizations, Facebook decided to rethink its plan. It no longer has a clear solution for transparency around ads that promote news stories about politics, according to a person familiar with the matter." (Bloomberg) Our take? This is another argument against self regulation for online political ads and in favor of efforts like the Honest Ads Act.
  • The IRS doesn't know who has access to its most sensitive systems, struggles to patch vulnerabilities in those systems, according to audit. "The Internal Revenue Service hasn’t accurately cataloged all the components of its highest value hardware and software systems and doesn’t have a clear count of who has privileged access to those systems, according to an audit released Monday. The IRS also likely isn’t patching software vulnerabilities on its highest value assets within the 30-day timeframe required for federal agencies, according to the audit from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration." (NextGov)
  • Questions raised over how disgraced former Member of Congress Blake Farenthold locked down his new job… "The Calhoun Port Authority apparently violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when it hired former Congressman Blake Farenthold as its lobbyist. The Victoria Advocate is investigating its legal options in challenging the May 9 action on behalf of the public." (Victoria Advocate) …prompting his new employer to seek an advisory opinion from the Texas Attorney General. "The Calhoun Port Authority is seeking a Texas Attorney General’s opinion regarding whether it illegally hired ex-congressman Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist. But if it is sued and a district judge concurs the port violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, Farenthold’s hiring will be nullified and an AG opinion will not matter." (Victoria Advocate)
  • The Senate Ethics Committee asked Sen. Bob Menendez to pay back the value of questionable gifts, but left the how up to him. "Last month, the Senate Ethics Committee demanded that Sen. Bob Menendez pay back the value of the gifts he received from his friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, and amend his Senate financial disclosure reports to show those gifts, which the panel determined he had improperly failed to report for years. But the committee provided no time frame for Menendez (D-N.J.) to amend the reports or for the repayments, nor did it detail exactly how much he has to pay back." (POLITICO) Why does this matter? Despite being acquitted on a number of federal corruption charges earlier this year, the Senate Ethics Committee "severely admonished" Menendez in a letter last month. However, that rebuke will loose some of its bite if Menendez is never required to officially make amends. 

states and cities

Florida, where the sun doesn't necessarily shine on political money. Image credit: Al Muya.
  • Florida's campaign finance laws leave plenty of room for interpretation. This year that's resulting in a flood of undisclosed spending. "Florida's wide-open race for governor won't be decided for another six months, but it's already triggered a wave of expensive television ad buys from groups taking advantage of gray areas in the state's campaign finance laws. Campaigns are interpreting the law so liberally — and some experts think they will get away with it — that it could essentially render the laws meaningless." (Tampa Bay Times)
  • Trying to tell a good story with data? Focus on the people, not the technology. Sean Thornton dug deeper to formulate his answer. "What makes for a good story about data? I’m not necessarily referring to a story that uses interactive data visualizations to help get its message across, though there are many good examples of those in the New York Times and the Washington Post (and here on Data-Smart, too).  I’m instead talking about a story about data itself—and how the technology used to understand it, distribute its insights equitably, and put it to use can help make cities better places." (Data-Smart City Solutions)
  • New report finds hurdles to open records access in Tennessee. "A 2017-2018 public records policy audit by Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has found that many governmental bodies have adopted rigid rules and hurdles that threaten to slow down or thwart access to public records. Most policies require a driver’s license as a condition for inspecting or getting copies of records, and many prohibit citizens from taking pictures of records. Relatively few have incorporated fee waivers for copies of records in the public interest." (Tennessee Coalition for Open Government)


  • President Trump has rebuffed efforts to boost security on his cellphone. "President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance. The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials." (POLITICO) Our take? It's not a great look for a President who is famously obsessed with leaks to insist on using a phone that remains vulnerable to surveillance and hacking. 
  • John Bolton's "shadow N.S.C" presents conflict concerns. "In the weeks after President Trump chose John R. Bolton to be his third national security adviser in March, Mr. Bolton, a veteran of the George W. Bush State Department whose bellicose manner kept him from a high-level job at the beginning of the Trump administration, engaged in his own sped-up transition process, aided by a handful of longtime associates…Mr. Bolton’s continued reliance on longtime associates in either informal or temporary capacities at the National Security Council has raised concerns among government watchdog organizations and agency veterans and scholars. They say it creates questions of conflicts of interest and an echo chamber of identical views with little room for dissent at the agency charged with coordinating policy throughout the government’s military, foreign policy and intelligence communities and synthesizing the best advice for the president." (New York Times)
  • The Trump administration has faced many scandals, but they all boil down to one thing. Adam Serwer makes the powerful argument that "there are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability." (The Atlantic)

around the world

  • A new guide to measuring open data principles. Ana Brandusescu and Danny Lämmerhirt "announce the launch of our Open Data Charter Measurement Guide. The guide is a collaborative effort of the Charter’s Measurement and Accountability Working Group (MAWG). It analyses the Open Data Charter principles and how they are assessed based on current open government data measurement tools. Governments, civil society, journalists, and researchers may use it to better understand how they can measure open data activities according to the Charter principles." (Open Knowledge)
  • Leaders of Spain's third-largest political party face confidence vote over expensive house purchase. "The purchase of a €600,000 villa by the power couple at the top of the far-left Podemos threatens to shake up the leadership of Spain’s third biggest political force. Podemos head Pablo Iglesias and his partner Irene Montero, the party’s parliamentary spokeswoman, called a members’ vote of confidence in response to complaints about their 268 square-meter villa, equipped with a swimming pool and guest house, on the outskirts of Madrid." (POLITICO)
  • Numerous South African officials face legal troubles. "A slew of legal cases involving South African politicians and officials, including former President Jacob Zuma, are working their way through the courts, with some prominent public figures at risk of being jailed or losing their jobs." (Bloomberg)


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