In today's edition, we head to the Code for America Summit, President Trump helps out a super PAC, some important pieces are missing from Facebook's online ad transparency effort, "fake news" has been used to jail journalists around the world, and more.
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states and cities
- The Sunlight Cities team is heading to the Code for America Summit this week. Here's what they're looking forward to. "Sunlight’s Open Cities team is headed out to Oakland, CA this week for the 2018 Code for America Summit. It’s an annual gathering of the community of people working on how technology can improve government services. We’re looking forward to seeing old friends and colleagues, meeting new ones, learning innovative ideas, and sharing what we’ve been working on…We’re also looking forward to learning new ideas and hearing from some of the leaders in this field." Read on to learn what each team member is most excited about. (Sunlight Foundation)
- Missouri Governor Eric Greitens resigns amid mounting scandals. "Scandal-plagued Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens announced his resignation on Tuesday…Greitens is confronting a swirling legislative and criminal investigation into his conduct — inquiries that have spanned from invasion of privacy charges involving a former mistress, to possible campaign finance violations, to alleged misuse of a charity for political donor purposes." (POLITICO) Greitens will be replaced by his Lt. Governor, Mike Parsons, who the New York Times profiled this morning.
- New standards are bringing increased transparency around local tax breaks. "Reporting on tax abatements, an important and evergreen story on the economic development beat, has never been easy. Because of a culture of government secrecy, including the privatization of economic development in many states in recent years, reporters are often forced to write about corporate tax breaks in a vague or abstract way…That’s changing, as a new accounting rule requires governments to disclose the costs of corporate tax breaks for the first time, including their impact on public services, such as school districts. Notably, this new era of accountability isn’t due to a law passed by Congress, or any elected body. In 2015, the nonprofit Governmental Accounting Standards Board, which sets financial reporting standards for US state and local governments, issued the rule change in Statement 77." (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Facebook's efforts at online political ad transparency aren't perfect. Here's a look at what it misses. "Facebook’s long-awaited change in how it handles political advertisements is only a first step toward addressing a problem intrinsic to a social network built on the viral sharing of user posts. The company’s approach, a searchable database of political ads and their sponsors, depends on the company’s ability to sort through huge quantities of ads and identify which ones are political. Facebook is betting that a combination of voluntary disclosure and review by both people and automated systems will close a vulnerability that was famously exploited by Russian meddlers in the 2016 election." (ProPublica) Our take? This is another brick in the argument that self-regulation can only do so much. The government needs to step up and bring transparency to online political ads.
- Meanwhile, a major trade association representing internet giants is pushing back against strong regulations being considered by the FEC. "Internet giants are pushing back against tougher election advertising regulations, asking the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to allow for some flexibility in how they disclose funding sources for political ads. In a filing submitted Tuesday, the Internet Association (IA), a trade group representing the biggest web-based technology companies, said that the same disclosure requirements imposed on television and radio ads don’t work well for the internet." (The Hill)
- The State Department has ended its controversial "FOIA surge." "The State Department has quietly ended the controversial “FOIA surge” launched last October under the since-fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Capitol Hill and State Department sources tell TPM. The effort involved pulling hundreds of people from offices across the agency — including former ambassadors, former high-level leaders of bureaus and former National Security Council staff — and reassigning them largely clerical work processing Freedom of Information Act requests." (Talking Points Memo) Our take? Agency FOIA backlogs are a serious problem that deserve to be tackled, not used as fodder for political payback. We're glad to see this "surge" has ended, and hope that the State Department devotes some real resources to their FOIA efforts in the future.
- President Trump looks to court big-donors during super PAC fundraiser at his Washington, DC hotel. "President Donald Trump is plunging into the big-donor game, planning an appearance at a six-figure-a-head fundraiser benefiting his allied super PAC. Trump is expected to address America First Action’s leadership summit, according to the super PAC’s president, Brian Walsh. The president is slated to speak on the second night of the two-day conference, to be held June 18-19 at Trump International Hotel in Washington." (POLITICO)
around the world
- A Russian journalist and Kremlin critic was murdered in Ukraine. "Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist who was a critic of the Kremlin’s military intervention in Ukraine, was shot and killed Tuesday evening in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Babchenko had been living in Kiev since fleeing Russia where he had faced political harassment after writing a post on Facebook critical of Russia’s military action in Syria and describing the 'indifference' he felt upon learning of a plane crash that killed members of a famous military choir." (POLITICO)
- In 2017 more than 20 journalists in 6 countries were jailed on charges related to "fake news." "A minimum of 21 journalists worldwide were imprisoned on charges connected to "fake news" last year, according to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists. The report cites the recent implementation of measures in countries such as Brazil, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Russia aimed at targeting the rise of fake news. Arrests blamed on fake news reportedly more than doubled from 2016." (The Hill)
- Iran is cracking down on online freedom in wake of U.S. withdrawal from nuclear deal. "Twitter has been prohibited for years in Iran, but people used special technology to avoid the ban and turned to Telegram, which became the favored online forum. Then, on April 30, Telegram was banned too. Authorities began shutting down proxies and other tools that helped users bypass restrictions on social media access. The office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei closed its account and the judiciary declared Telegram a security threat; a foe in the cloud to add to that across the Atlantic. The crackdown gathered pace after President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that he was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal, emboldening hard-liners who were wary of the U.S. all along." (Bloomberg)
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