Today in OpenGov: Missing the mark


In today's edition, tech companies start to roll out political ad transparency rules, cities need to get smart about their "smart cities" agreements, the Trump administration sets a low bar for ethics, a major corruption case shakes Spain's ruling party, and more. 

washington watch

Facebook's new political ad disclosure search tool.
Facebook rolled out its new political ad transparency website. The site exceeds expectations and includes issue ads as well as explicitly political ones. It also includes information about the ads' reach and details like different versions and how much money was spent. The company seems to have realistic expectations, and to be taking ownership of their own past failings. That said, Facebook's conduct or stock value is the least important part of the story. 

The fact that campaign finance regulation is becoming a privatized space in the United States is absurd. It is a massive abdication of public authority. There are no mechanisms to hold Facebook accountable for how they do this, or whether they do it well. And even if they do it well now, the company can change the rules of the game whenever they want.

The bottom line is that self regulation will never be enough. We still need to pass the Honest Ads Act, which Mark Zuckerberg himself has publicly supported. 

  • Twitter also announced its new political ad transparency policy yesterday. You can find all the details here
  • Meanwhile, the FEC deadlocked on proposals aimed at limiting foreign influence in American elections. "As tech companies and government agencies prepare to defend against possible Russian interference in the midterm elections, the Federal Election Commission has a different response: too soon. The four commissioners on Thursday deadlocked, again, on proposals to consider new rules, for example, for foreign-influenced U.S. corporations and for politically active entities that don't disclose their donors." (NPR)

states and cities

  • Cities should be smart about "smart cities" agreements. "As tech companies around the world scramble to implement new privacy policies, repair trust in their products, and comply with new privacy standards, city governments should be paying attention. Private companies are dominating figures in the push toward “smart cities”. They are developing technologies that will allow cities to collect and analyze data about their residents’ behaviors through our everyday built environment including pedestrian traffic sensors, connected bikeshare, license plate readers, and more. If wielded correctly, these technologies hold the promise of improving quality of life for residents. But what’s more certain is that tech companies will profit from mass data collection, analysis, and use." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • New rule may shed light on what state and local governments owe to private banks. "A new rule is going into effect next month that many believe will shed light on a controversial spending area for state and local governments: how much they owe banks for private loans. The rule, issued by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), lays out standards for reporting these loans in government financial reports." (Governing)
  • Florida law sets a new standard for local government financial data. Marc Joffe and William Glassgal explain, "a new Florida law enacted in March promises to radically improve the accessibility of municipal fundamental data…The new law, HB 1073, will convert local government comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFRs) in the Sunshine State from PDFs to eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) format…the format change will make audited Florida local government financial statistics more readily available at low cost." Joffe and Glassgall argue that other state's should follow Florida's lead. (Bond Buyer) We tend to agree. As we've argued before, Florida has embraced a common sense 21st century sunshine law and other states should follow suit. Open data will save taxpayer money and help to manage the risks of insolvency.


Tony Clement, a Canadian Member of Parliament, visited Trump International Hotel this week and posted about it on Instagram.
  • In new poll, Americans give the Trump administration low marks for ethics. "Americans do not regard top Trump administration officials as very ethical, with 37% describing their ethical standards as excellent or good and 59% as not good or poor. The Trump administration's ethical rating is lower than readings for other presidential administrations, most of which had positive ratings of 50% or better." (Gallup)
  • Judge's ruling against President Trump's habit of blocking critics on Twitter will have ramifications for all elected officials. "The ruling—in a case brought by seven Twitter users who had been blocked by the @realDonaldTrump account, and who were joined by the Knight Institute—extends to all public officials, meaning that it has the potential to impact the communications of everyone from local representatives to US Senators. The plaintiffs argued that Trump’s twitter feed amounted to a virtual town hall, and that blocking users from seeing his tweets violated their First Amendment rights." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Democratic donors and "Never Trump" Republicans are quietly working together. "In the past year…influential liberal donors and operatives have gone from cheering these so-called Never Trump Republicans to quietly working with — and even funding — them. Through invitation-only emails and private, off-the-record meetings, they have formed a loose network of cross-partisan alliances aimed at helping neutralize President Trump, and preventing others from capitalizing on weaknesses in the political system that they say he has exploited." (New York Times)
  • This week's top conflicts include lobbying, bailouts, and the President's financial disclosures. Lynn Walsh checks in with her weekly look at Trump administration conflicts of interest, including "a breakdown of who is spending money at President Donald Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel, a possible bailout for Kushner Companies from a Canadian firm with ties to Qatar, and more details from President Trump’s most recent financial disclosure reveal how his businesses are doing." (Sunlight Foundation)

around the world

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Image credit: European People's Party.
  • Spanish ruling party rocked by corruption convictions. "Spain’s High Court convicted 29 people, including former senior officials of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP), and sentenced them to a total of 351 years in prison on Thursday in one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals in modern history. The court also found that the PP itself benefited from a massive graft scheme involving kickbacks in exchange for public contracts to businesses, and ordered the PP to repay around €245,000, making it the first national political party in Spain to be reprimanded in a graft case." (POLITICO) This morning, Spain's top opposition party called for a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. (POLITICO)
  • Will Mexico's new copyright law lead to increased online censorship? "Legal censorship of online content could be much easier in Mexico due to recently approved changes to the country's copyright laws. On April 26, the Mexican Senate passed a bill that modified the Federal Copyright Law, enabling judges to order the removal of internet content that allegedly violates copyright law without needing to prove it in court or by sentence…Organizations, unions, and associations that work on issues related to digital rights and technologies for information and communication have all criticized the changes to this law. They claim this will open a path to preemptive censorship on the internet and is a threat to freedom of expression in the digital world." (Global Voices)
  • South African anti-graft panel will hold public hearings in August. "A South African judicial commission probing the alleged looting of billions of rand from the government and state companies during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure said it will start holding public hearings in August. The panel’s success in getting to the bottom of the graft scandal will go a long way in determining whether the country can put behind it years of mismanagement that undermined investor confidence and stymied economic growth." (Bloomberg)


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