Today in OpenGov: Hedge Your Bets


In today's edition, big business might be hedging its bets ahead of the midterms, we explain's scheduled downtime, our friends at MuckRock have a few questions, transparency for a fishy deal in Madagascar, and more. 

midterm madness

Image via Pixabay.
  • Is big business hedging its bets ahead of the midterms? These headlines tell a few different stories. "Wall Street Tries to Shape Democratic Victory by Backing Moderates" (Bloomberg) "Businesses Prep for Elections by Backing Incumbent Republicans" (Bloomberg) "Business lobbyists dial back efforts to prop up GOP establishment" (POLITICO)
  • This shadowy group is spending $30 million — from primarily undisclosed sources — to boost Democratic candidates. "A structure unknown even to some of those involved, Floridians for a Fair Shake and 13 other groups around the country are funded and coordinated out of a single office in Washington, with the goal of battering Republicans for their health care and economic policies during the midterm elections…At the center of the effort is an opaquely named Democratic organization, the Hub Project, which is on track to spend nearly $30 million since 2017 pressuring members of Congress in their districts. The great bulk of its funding has come from so-called dark money — funds from donors who are not legally required to reveal their names." (New York Times)
  • This nonpartisan organization is spending $10 million in an effort to get more people to vote. "Driving down the streets of Phoenix, odds are that you will see a red billboard with the word 'VOTE' splashed across in giant white letters. Underneath that simple message is a reminder, in English and Spanish, that Election Day is Nov. 6. You can spot the billboards in eight other states as part of’s turnout push for the 2018 midterms. The team of 10 staffers is helming a $10 million effort to increase voter turnout among young people and people of color who typically do not turn out in high numbers." (Roll Call)
  • Trying to keep track of all the fake news and election related hoaxes floating around? BuzzFeed has you covered. "BuzzFeed News is tracking and debunking the dubious rumors, memes, and falsehoods related to the midterm elections. If you see something we haven’t covered, get in touch through email ( or Twitter (@JaneLytv). This post will be updated through Election Day 2018." (BuzzFeed)

washington watch

  • Explaining scheduled downtime during open enrollment. "On October 10, The Hill published a story identifying planned downtime windows for, the primary hub for purchasing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), during this year’s annual open enrollment period. Citing a spokesperson from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the story said the agency was planning for maintenance periods that could leave the site inaccessible for a full 12 hours every Sunday through most of the sign-up period…At the Web Integrity Project (WIP), part of our mission is to monitor the federal Web. Last year, around 8.8 million Americans used to find their insurance plans—it’s hard to imagine a more critical component of the federal web that directly serves the public. To that end, we wanted to get a better idea of what will actually be happening to during this year’s enrollment period downtime, so we spoke with some experts who could help us understand. Overall, we found that, while the Trump administration has sought to undermine the ACA in a variety of ways, including by censoring information on the Department of Health and Human Services’ website, the planned downtimes do not appear to go beyond norms or best practices for this type of system." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has raised more money for her leadership PAC than any other Senator, fueling 2020 speculation. "Sen. Kamala Harris has raised more money for her leadership PAC than any other senator, adding to speculation that the California Democrat will launch a White House bid for 2020. Harris raised more than $2.3 million this election cycle for her Fearless for the People PAC, according to a report published Wednesday by Issue One, a nonpartisan think tank." (The Hill) Issue One's report, Leadership PACs, Inc., explores how Washington players leverage the unique PAC setup to buy access and influence. It's well worth a read. 
  • Recent news shows that self regulation by tech companies isn't enough when it comes to online political ads. "In recent days, both Vice News and Business Insider have put Facebook’s political ad transparency efforts to the test ahead — and the results are not good. Yesterday, Vice was able to easily game the 'Paid for by' disclosure on political ads, getting false disclosures approved in the name of all 100 sitting US senators. Facebook approved the ads after the purchaser was able to verify their own identity with a postcard showing that they were a US resident. From there, they could decide for themselves whose name would be listed under the 'Paid for by' tag. Facebook’s ads have been a source of frustration for lawmakers for years, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 elections when it was discovered that Russian influence agents were able to place political ads involving US politics on the platform. Bills have been introduced to hold these platforms accountable and federal agencies have launched investigations, but everything so far has fallen flat. As of right now, Facebook has no legal restrictions on how it fights false political ads, and no outside incentive to stop scammy election tactics." (The Verge)

states and cities

  • For-profit companies are benefiting from special access to NYPD information with little public transparency. "Private partnerships with law enforcement are big business for Silicon Valley. Amid reports that Amazon quietly shopped its facial recognition technology to immigration officials, here in New York we recently learned that the NYPD spent years secretly providing surveillance footage of New Yorkers to train IBM’s object-recognition software. This technology aims to comb through video footage and identify individuals based on their clothing, hair color, even supposed ethnicity. The police department promises that it never used any features that enabled racial targeting, and claims it consulted with key stakeholders and elected officials about its partnership. But there’s no evidence the public or City Council were ever made aware of a program that used unsuspecting New Yorkers as test subjects. It is time for the Council to step in and impose overdue transparency and accountability measures." (Brennan Center)
  • Help out our friends at MuckRock by taking their 2018 community survey. "Whether you’re a first-time reader or frequent MuckRock filer, we want to hear from you about how we can make our news, resource, and service more useful. Take the 2018 MuckRock Survey to share your thoughts — and you’ll get a chance to win some free swag or a gift certificate! The survey takes about 15 minutes and tailors questions to whether you use the site to file requests, read our articles, or just check in occasionally." (MuckRock)
  • South Dakota voters are considering a sweeping ethics reform amendment. Lobbyists are spending to oppose it. "When voters in South Dakota head into the polls to vote in the midterms next week, some of the biggest corporate money this election cycle will have been spent not on the slate of candidates, but on a ethics reform ballot measure. And it may also bring a strong feeling of déjà vu for voters, who passed a nearly identical measure two years ago, only to have their representatives overturn it…Opposition to Amendment W has come primarily from those lobbyists who would be most impacted by the changes to the state’s constitution. According to campaign finance figures reviewed by Sludge, only $6,000 of the roughly $181,000 raised by the campaign opposing Amendment W came from individuals." (Sludge)

around the world

Whales swimming off the coast of northwestern Madagacsar by Salvatore Cerchio et al. / Royal Society Open Science. Via Global Voices.
  • In Madagascar, cloudy fishing deal sparks calls for transparency. "In September 2018, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the incumbent president of Madagascar, announced that a 10-year fishing agreement had been finalized between the Malagasy Agency for Economic Development and Promotion of Enterprises and Taihe Century Investments Developments Corporation, a Chinese business consortium. According to sources in Madagascar, the president had negotiated the deal with almost no input from his administration, parliament or civil society.  Madagascar's main development partners, including the World Bank and the European Union were not informed of the deal either…The deal was unilaterally conducted by the office of the president, raising concern and anger from Malagasy citizens. The Fishing Ministry confirmed that they have not been involved in the agreement either and expressed concerns about the risks of over-exploiting the island's sea resources." (Global Voices)
  • How WhatsApp groups and misinformation can undermine fragile democracies… "Brazilians are among the world’s top users of social media, leaving them especially exposed to fake news and political influence campaigns online. Social media forums have replaced traditional media, which for decades were controlled largely by a single Brazilian conglomerate, Globo Group. Facebook Inc.-owned WhatsApp, in particular, has become the main vehicle for the internecine spats that happen elsewhere on Twitter or Facebook…the spread of misinformation on social media could pose a long-term threat to democratic norms and institutions." (Bloomberg)…Meanwhile, the Indian government is pressing for access to WhatsApp location data in an effort to stop violence. "The Indian government is pressing WhatsApp to give it the locations and identities of people using the Facebook-owned mobile messaging app to spread fake information that has led to violence." (The Hill)
  • Constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka leads to protests, at least one death. "On 26 October, the political situation in Sri Lanka began to deteriorate when incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena appointed the former president and opposition Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa prime minister — a move that ousted the sitting PM Ranil Wickremesinghe. The ensuing power struggle between ousted PM Wickremesinghe and the newly appointed PM Rajapaksa has led to the death of one protester who was shot when the bodyguard of a sacked minister fired at a crowd in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo." (Global Voices)


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