Today in OpenGov: Midterm Madness


In today's edition, we take a look at K Street spending, midterm madness heats up, the Trump administration looks to bypass appeals courts in favor of their Supreme Court majority, unique state FOIA exemptions, and more. 

washington watch

K Street's top ten 2018 spenders.
  • It's been an expensive year on K Street, despite midterm related distractions… "The mayhem and political disruption of the Trump administration and the coming midterm elections haven’t killed business on K Street this year, as health care, technology and business interests now look to action during a lame-duck session. Some of the nation’s biggest spenders on federal lobbying, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors, are on pace to exceed their tabs from last year, according to recently filed lobbying disclosures. And among K Street top’s firms, some outfits reported an increase in lobbying revenue this year when compared with last year, with business fueled by passage of such measures as an opioids bill and consternation about trade policy and tariffs." (Roll Call)
  • …Meanwhile, a top Wall Street lobbying group is cutting its members a deal this year. "Wall Street banks that pay millions of dollars a year to lobby Washington policy makers are getting a break from their top trade group. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association has agreed to trim costs for its biggest members by capping annual fees at about $1.75 million, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter." (Bloomberg)
  • Senators looking at 2020 presidential bids have been spending big on out-of-state digital ads this year. "Meanwhile, Senators who are expected to run for President in 2020 are purchasing online, out-of-state ads and bypassing TV ads entirely. More than half of the $11.5 million Senate candidates have spent on Facebook ads has come from potential presidential candidates, according to Google spending data obtained from the Google Transparency report and Facebook spending estimates from Pathmatics analyzed in the report." (Open Secrets)
  • Advocates push for expanded privacy powers at the FTC. "The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is under pressure after recent privacy scandals as critics question if the agency has the regulatory teeth to oversee the tech industry’s customer data policies. The new scrutiny also comes with Congress mulling federal privacy legislation. Many privacy and consumer watchdogs say beefing up the agency’s powers and resources to handle data privacy should be a top priority." (The Hill)

midterm madness

  • Michael Bloomberg increases his midterm spending as election day draws near. "After pledging to spend up to $100 million on helping elect Democrats in the upcoming midterm election, billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael has begun making headway on that promise.  Bloomberg and his political action committee have spent roughly $16.8 million since the New York Times reported in late June that Bloomberg planned on spending $80 million on the midterms, according to a Sludge analysis of campaign finance records released by the Federal Election Commission." (Sludge)
  • Facebook launches new weekly report to help parse its political spending database. "Facebook on Tuesday introduced a new “ad archive report” for political advertisements and revealed that is the top spender for such ads on its own platform. The report will help users more easily search and categorize the Facebook ad archive that was released in May. The company revealed that they have spent $12 million touting its election security reforms and urging users to vote." (The Hill)
  • A Congressman in New York sent a mailer featuring incorrect information about absentee voting. "The re-election campaign for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) acknowledged this week that it sent a mailer to voters with erroneous information regarding the deadline for absentee ballots…Zeldin's campaign said in a statement to The Hill that the date on the mailer was an error and that it was caused by a mistake from its printer, PDQ Print and Mail." (The Hill)
  • Trump campaign set to spend more than $20 million on midterms. "President Trump’s campaign announced Tuesday it will spend more than $20 million to help Republicans preserve their majorities in both chambers of Congress. Trump, who has traversed the country to hold campaign rallies for Republicans in Senate and House battlegrounds, will spend north of $11 million on rallies. Since early July, his campaign said he’s held 20 rallies and is slated to headline at least 10 more through Nov. 6." (The Hill)


The United States Supreme Court.
  • Trump administration regularly looks to bypass appeals courts in favor of Conservative majority on the Supreme Court. "To a far greater degree than its predecessors, the Trump administration has sought to bypass adverse lower-court rulings on some of its signature issues by seeking extraordinary relief from a refortified conservative Supreme Court. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco have repeatedly gone outside the usual appellate process to get issues such as the travel ban, immigration and greater authority for top officials before the justices." (Washington Post)
  • Trump campaign is preparing to bypass big tech platforms with 2020 digital strategy. "Donald Trump often claims Facebook and Google are "rigged” to favor the political left. Now he’s building a 2020 campaign infrastructure that can circumvent them. The emerging tech strategy, according to four officials involved in Trump’s reelection campaign, will reduce its reliance on Big Tech platforms — which were the dominant messaging channels in 2016 — to get the president's message out. The president’s team instead is planning to go around the platforms as much as possible and reach supporters directly, making use of old-school text messaging." (POLITICO)
  • The White House rejected nominees to a traditionally nonpartisan Veterans board after asking about their politics. "The Board of Veterans’ Appeals has long filled a nonpartisan role in the federal government, run by dozens of judges charged with sorting through a thicket of regulations to determine whether an injured veteran is entitled to lifetime benefits. But this summer, the White House rejected half of the candidates selected by the board chairwoman to serve as administrative judges, who make rulings on the disability claims. The rejections came after the White House required them to disclose their party affiliation and other details of their political leanings, according to documents viewed by The Washington Post." (Washington Post)

states and cities

  • Highlighting five particularly ambiguous state level FOIA exemptions. "FOIA law governs access to public records at the Federal level, but each state mandates their own public records policies. Navigating the ambiguities in these state laws can prove cumbersome and frustrating to requesters – we’ve identified particularly irksome examples and offer tips on what you can do about them." (MuckRock)
  • Judge rules that FOIA does not apply to Virginia's judiciary. "A retired circuit court judge has ruled the Virginia Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the state’s judiciary, a ruling that could potentially hinder access to records of the judicial branch of government, like expense reports or phone bills. The Oct. 15 ruling by retired Judge William Alexander II came in a dispute between William Turner, who lives on the Eastern Shore, and state officials. Turner had filed a lawsuit requesting records of long-distance phone calls from the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Office of the Executive Secretary. The judge ruled that enforcement of FOIA did not apply to the Office of Executive Secretary and that the doctrine of sovereign immunity and separation of powers barred enforcement of FOIA against the office." (Via NFOIC)
  • The need for oversight and transparency around "smart city data" projects. "The massive amounts of data collected by cities, and the analytics it enables, are often trumpeted as forces to grow the collective good, whether that is to make traffic move more smoothly or improve air quality. With improper oversight and policy direction, however, that data can also lead to unjust policing or uncontrolled surveillance of communities, say researchers and policymakers who have studied the various types of smart cities technologies being deployed in municipalities across the country." (Government Technology)
  • Making Emergency Room prices more transparent, one bill at a time. "A medical bill emailed to Vox senior policy correspondent Sarah Kliff got her interested in emergency room facility fees—a widely applied, highly variable, and little understood cost in the healthcare system. The fees, set between hospitals and insurers, are the charge from the hospital for coming in for treatment. Last October, Kliff set out to learn more about these fees through one of the only ways she could think of to get the information: by collecting hospital bills." (Columbia Journalism Review)


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