Today in OpenGov: Hot on the Trail


In today's edition, Big Oil finds a loophole in Facebook's "ad transparency" rules, the White House is concerned about its embattled Interior Secretary, Americans fear politically motivated violence, and more. 

washington watch

Recent news has made it clear that self-regulation isn't enough when it comes to online ad transparency, which is why we support the Honest Ads Act
  • Industry groups are finding it easy to avoid Facebook's "ad transparency" rules. "Although Facebook now requires every political ad to “accurately represent the name of the entity or person responsible,” the social media giant acknowledges that it didn’t check whether Energy4US is actually responsible for the ad. Nor did it question 11 other ad campaigns identified by ProPublica in which U.S. businesses or individuals masked their sponsorship through faux groups with public-spirited names. Some of these campaigns resembled a digital form of what is known as “astroturfing,” or hiding behind the mirage of a spontaneous grassroots movement. In most cases, Facebook users would have to click on the ad and scrutinize the affiliated website to find any reference to the actual sponsor." (ProPublica)
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduces strict new data privacy proposal. "A Democratic senator on Thursday released a draft bill that would impose steep fines and even prison time for executives at corporations that fail to adequately safeguard Americans’ personal data. Under the bill, proposed by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the Federal Trade Commission would be allowed to assess fines of as much as 4 percent of a company’s annual revenue and impose sentences of as long as 20 years on corporate officers if companies are found to have violated privacy regulations." (Bloomberg)
  • New Jersey's governor just made it easier for Sen. Cory Booker (D) to run for President and his Senate seat in 2020. "Let there be no doubt: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker can run for president and Senate at the same time. Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed a bill — unofficially dubbed “Cory’s Law” — that would clarify that a U.S. senator or member of the U.S. House from New Jersey can appear on the primary and general election ballots for those offices as well as for the presidency." (POLITICO)
  • Is the IRS unintentionally discouraging whistleblowers thanks to a poorly designed form? "Private-sector whistleblowers with knowledge of unpaid taxes may be discouraged from coming forward if the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t improve the form it uses to collect that data, a watchdog found. Last February, Congress changed the law to require the IRS to include penalties for foreign bank account reporting violations when the agency calculates whistleblower awards. But the agency neglected to change Form 11369, which provides the data on which award amounts for credible whistleblowers are determined, according to a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office." (Government Executive)

midterm madness

Image via Pixabay.
  • Trump administration officials have been hitting the campaign trail in swing districts where the President is seen as too divisive. "In the run-up to the midterm elections, Trump administration officials have been turning up in swing districts, not as stand-ins for the president but as under-the-radar emissaries to places where Trump is divisive. They’re able to enter what is essentially Trump’s no-fly zone, offering a softer pitch that could nevertheless serve as a lifeline for vulnerable Republicans. Other presidents have deployed their government leaders as midterm campaign surrogates. But the election-season appearances by Trump’s Cabinet — coordinated in conjunction with the White House — have been more frequent, according to GOP strategists and former Obama administration officials. And they’ve raised concerns that the secretaries’ stopovers could violate the law prohibiting government officials from engaging in partisan activity." (Washington Post)
  • New poll shows large majority of Americans fear that political incivility will lead to more violence. "If you are scared about how toxic politics have become, you are not alone. Roughly 80 percent of Americans are scared that political incivility around the country will lead to more violence. That's according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll taken after Saturday's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben has been poring over these poll results." (NPR)
  • Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley let political consultants help run his office, raising ethics concerns. "Josh Hawley pledged to Missouri voters in 2016 that he was not the kind of career politician who would use 'one office to get to another.' But within weeks of Hawley’s swearing in as the state’s top law enforcement official, the high-powered political team that would go on to run his U.S. Senate campaign had stepped in to help direct the office of the Missouri attorney general — and raise his national profile. Hawley’s out-of-state political consultants gave direct guidance and tasks to his taxpayer-funded staff, and followed up to ensure the tasks were completed, according to emails, text messages and other records obtained by The Kansas City Star." (Kansas City Star)
  • Late donations by megadonors to GOP super PACs are helping offset the Democratic fundraising advantage in Senate races. "A surge in multi-million-dollar checks from megadonors helped Senate Republican candidates catch up in the polls after being badly out-raised by Democrats this cycle, the GOP's main Senate super PAC told its donors Thursday." (POLITICO)


President Trump. 
  • President Trump is reportedly concerned that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may have violated rules after IG probe referred was to Justice Department. "The White House is growing increasingly concerned about allegations of misconduct against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, according to two senior administration officials, and President Trump has asked aides for more information about a Montana land deal under scrutiny by the Justice Department. Trump told his aides that he is afraid Zinke has broken rules while serving as the interior secretary and is concerned about the Justice Department referral, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter." (Washington Post)
  • The Commerce Department inspector general is planning to audit how firms gain tariff exemptions. "The Commerce Department's office of inspector general (IG) is planning to audit the process by which firms gain exemptions to U.S. tariffs, according to documents obtained by The Hill. According to an internal letter dated Monday, the IG is investigating how decisions are made to assign exemptions for President Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs." (The Hill)
  • As the midterms approach, President Trump has ramped up his reliance on false or misleading claims. "In the first nine months of his presidency, President Trump made 1,318 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day. But in the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims — an average of 30 a day. That adds up to a total of 6,420 claims through Oct. 30, the 649th day of his presidency, according to The Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president." (Washington Post)


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