Today in OpenGov: First Up


In today's edition, voters support campaign finance reforms, assessing Seattle's "democracy voucher" program, President Trump plans to award a mega-donor with a top Presidential honor, France and Facebook want to tackle online hate speech together, and more. 

washington watch

The United States House of Representatives Chamber.
  • House Democrats plan package of ethics, campaign finance, voting reforms as their first legislative effort next Congress… "Democrats will take control of the U.S. House in January with big items topping their legislative to-do list: Remove obstacles to voting, close loopholes in government ethics law and reduce the influence of political money. Party leaders say the first legislative vote in the House will come on H.R. 1, a magnum opus of provisions that Democrats believe will strengthen U.S. democratic institutions and traditions." (NPR) …Meanwhile, a new poll shows broad voter support for campaign finance reform. "According to a new Issue One poll, 4 in 5 voters in the 2018 election support bipartisan political reform, including reducing the influence of big money in politics and requiring full disclosure of all money being raised and spent to influence our elections." (Issue One)
  • Koch network considers a bipartisan legislative strategy after midterm setbacks. "The public policy and political network led by billionaire Charles Koch is advocating a more bipartisan approach, even after spending tens of millions of dollars on advertising to help Republicans running in last week’s midterm congressional elections. In the remaining weeks of the year, the network plans a “multi-million-dollar” campaign to address some of the top issues embraced by its membership: criminal justice reform, immigration and promotion of free trade." (Bloomberg)
  • House GOP considering new party rules that would strip indicted members of Congress of their leadership posts. "House Republicans are proposing new party rules for the chamber that would force indicted members of Congress to relinquish their committee assignments and leadership positions…The move would most immediately affect the legislative futures of Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). Both lawmakers — who were early endorsers of President Donald Trump’s 2016 bid for the White House — were indicted in August, but respectively won additional two-year terms in the House in Tuesday’s midterm elections." (POLITICO)
  • Sources behind nearly $90 million spent by super PACs in final weeks before election day will remain secret until December. "The 2018 elections smashed records for overall midterms spending and for spending by independent political groups. But voters won’t know the sources of a significant portion of that money, which funded TV and radio ads, mailers, phone banking and more, until December. That’s because federal campaign finance laws allow political groups to file reports on a periodic basis. The most recent required report from active committees covered a period through Oct. 17, and the next one isn’t due until Dec. 6…Meanwhile, outside political groups often spend the most money in the weeks just before Election Day. Sludge has found that super PACs alone accepted and spent at least $87 million in undisclosed donations since Oct. 18, according to Federal Election Commission data as of Nov. 9." (Sludge)

states and cities

Seattle, Washington.
  • How is Seattle's "democracy voucher" program working out? "What, if anything, can be done to break the dependence of candidates on wealthy donors and restore democratic responsiveness? A new innovative public financing program implemented in Seattle, Washington, offers a possible path forward. Passed by ballot initiative in 2015, the Seattle Democracy Voucher program gives every voter in Seattle four $25 vouchers to spend on local candidates of their choice…Did the program meet its goals of bringing more people into the system? For comparison, local elections are routinely financed by a tiny share of the adult population—about 1.7 percent in 2017. That rate includes donors who made a contribution of any size. The participation rate in the Democracy Voucher Program was about 3.4 percent—twice the overall donor participation rate." (Sludge)
  • Documents show that the DEA and ICE are hiding surveillance cameras in streetlights. "The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have hidden an undisclosed number of covert surveillance cameras inside streetlights around the country, federal contracting documents reveal. According to government procurement data, the DEA has paid a Houston, Texas company called Cowboy Streetlight Concealments LLC roughly $22,000 since June 2018 for “video recording and reproducing equipment.” ICE paid out about $28,000 to Cowboy Streetlight Concealments over the same period of time." (Quartz)
  • This industry spent over $100 million to defeat a ballot measure in California. "More than $111 million was spent by the dialysis industry to bat down a single ballot measure in California during last week’s midterm elections, an effort that rivals some of the most expensive ballot measure campaigns in the state’s history. It was the most money raised by a campaign on one side of a ballot measure since online records have been available, according to an analysis of California data by Maplight, a nonprofit that tracks political campaign spending. And experts say voters are poised to see a return influx of cash if the failed measure is resurrected in two years." (Washington Post)


The Seal of the President of the United States. 
  • President Trump's picks for the Presidential Medal of Freedom? A retiring Senator, a deceased Supreme Court Justice, the "King of Rock and Roll", and a GOP mega-donor. "President Trump on Saturday named seven individuals who will receive the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, next week — a list that includes a GOP mega-donor. The awardees are retiring Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), sports legendaries Babe Ruth and Roger Staubach, musician Elvis Presley, the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, former Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan C. Page, and Miriam Adelson, a physician and wife of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate…the Adelsons also contributed at least $87 million to GOP candidates in the 2018 midterms. This included $25 million given to the Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC aimed at supporting and electing GOP candidates into the House of Representatives." (Washington Post
  • Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is consulting with ethics officials over potential Mueller recusal. "Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is consulting with ethics officials regarding possible recusal from overseeing the special counsel’s Russia investigation, the Justice Department said on Monday…Whitaker has been overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation since last Wednesday, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation triggered a set of events that left Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, in charge of the inquiry instead of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein." (POLITICO)
  • Where will House Democrats turn their investigative attention in January? "Now that Democrats will control the House, they have free rein to launch as many investigations into President Trump and his administration as they would like. They plan to hold back on any impeachment proceedings…until they see what is uncovered in Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. But they still have plenty of other ways to keep themselves busy…Here is a list, and it is nowhere near exhaustive, of the areas the Democrats plan to investigate and hold hearings on when they take over in January." (Washington Post)
  • Did President Trump's deal with a media company to hide politically unfavorable information violate campaign finance law? It sure looks that way. "It is a strange turn of events when a president famous for denouncing “fake news” is discovered to have entered into an agreement with a media organization to finance the concealment of very real but politically unfavorable newsworthy information. The Wall Street Journal reports that Donald Trump entered into an explicit agreement with the chairman of American Media (AMI), David Pecker, to help his campaign by buying off women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump…The deal that Trump reached and executed with AMI violates federal campaign-finance laws. AMI made an illegal corporate in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign, and the campaign and Trump share in the liability by accepting this illegal support. As open-and-shut cases go, this one is high on the list." (The Atlantic)

around the world

  • Using open scientific data to promote health and well-being. Natalia Norori explains "When I started medical school, I had no idea what Open Access was, what subscriptions were and how they would affect my everyday life. Open Access is important to me because I have experienced first hand, on a day to day basis, the frustration of not being able to keep up to date with recent discoveries and offer patients up-to-date evidence-based treatment…Open Access has the power to accelerate advancement not only towards good health and well being, but towards all sustainable development goals." (Open Knowledge)
  • France and Facebook are teaming up to tackle online hate speech. "Emmanuel Macron just “friended” Mark Zuckerberg. The French president announced on Monday a six-month partnership with Facebook aimed at figuring out how the European country should police hate speech on the social network. As part of the cooperation — the first time that Facebook has teamed up with national politicians to hammer out such a contentious issue — both sides plan to meet regularly between now and May, when the European election is due to be held. They will focus on how the French government and Facebook can work together to remove harmful content from across the digital platform, without specifying the outcome of their work or if it would result in binding regulation." (POLITICO)
  • Philippine government increases pressure on critical media with tax evasion charges. "President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has intensified its campaign against critics in a move that’s raising concerns about growing attacks on media freedom in the Philippines. Online media company Rappler Holdings Corp. and its chief executive officer Maria Ressa — who’s a high-profile critic of Duterte — are facing fresh charges of tax evasion. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the government plans to file a case against Rappler, Ressa and their accountant before the Court of Tax Appeals as early as Monday." (Bloomberg)


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