Today in OpenGov: Honesty. It’s the best policy.


In today's edition, the bipartisan Honest Ads Act is reintroduced, prescription drug ads will soon have to include price information, free speech remains under threat in Myanmar, and more. 

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washington watch

Image credit: Issue One.
  • Bipartisan Honest Ads Act reintroduced in the House and Senate. "Lawmakers and transparency groups announced legislation Wednesday meant to close digital political advertisement loopholes that enabled Russian actors to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the 2019 Honest Ads Act, which would mandate disclosure of those paying for online political ads and create a publicly available database of political ads that appear on major online platforms such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Snapchat and Twitter. The bill would encourage major platforms to ensure that foreign entities are not buying political ads." (Open Secrets) Sunlight has been proud to support the Honest Ads Act since its inception and we are thrilled that it is back in the current Congress. The bill would fill a void in information around online political ads with transparency and accountability. 
  • Lobbying for the new North American trade deal is increasing amid bipartisan opposition in Congress. "The pending North American trade deal is stalled in Congress due to both Republican and Democratic opposition, even recently being deemed “dead” by former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman. Negotiated over the past two years, this new trade deal, titled the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, is meant to satisfy one of President Donald Trump’s earliest campaign promises: a repeal of and American withdrawal from the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Everyone is getting in on the USMCA lobbying game — even foreign agents." (Open Secrets)
  • A new primer for federal employees considering blowing the whistle to Congress. "Agency employees who spot wrongdoing confront a bewildering array of options on where to turn should they choose to brave the role of whistleblower. The Government Accountability Office on Tuesday released a primer on what outlets Congress has created to receive complaints. The guide lays out the four phases of the process: intake (tracking reports and assuring secure communications), prioritization (reviewing rankings regularly and keeping whistleblowers informed); referrals for discipline (negotiating on release of personal information); and follow-up (evaluating lessons learned and setting whistleblower expectations)." (Government Executive)
  • This Representative just introduced a constitutional amendment aimed at overturning Citizens United. "Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which eliminated restrictions on corporate campaign spending. The amendment would allow Congress and states to put limits on campaign contributions, according to a statement from Schiff's office." (The Hill)


Image via Pixabay.
  • Trump administration finalizes rule that would require prescription drug ads to include price information. "Pharmaceutical companies will have to disclose drug prices in television commercials in the U.S. for the first time, as the Trump administration begins to put in place a plan to lower prescription costs. The Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule Wednesday that would require drugmakers to disclose a drug’s cost if its price before rebates and discounts is above $35 for a month’s supply or the usual course of therapy." (Bloomberg)
  • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington files Hatch Act complaint against Kellyanne Conway. "Watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleged in a complaint filed on Wednesday that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act by commenting on several Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). CREW’s complaint to the Official of the Special Counsel (OSC) alleges Conway, while acting in her official capacity as a government official, expressed her political views about candidates in upcoming partisan elections." (The Hill)
  • A tweet from President Trump helped kill a bill that just happens to be opposed by the lobbyist-husband of one of his top aides. "President Trump on Wednesday helped derail a bipartisan casino bill opposed by a key White House ally after tying the measure to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading Democratic candidate vying to challenge him in 2020. The intervention by Trump, contained in a morning tweet, eroded Republican support and prompted House Democrats to postpone a vote on the measure, which would pave the way for a new Massachusetts tribal casino…But opponents, including Rhode Island lawmakers, have argued that the bill would harm the business of two neighboring casinos across the state line. A key Trump ally, American Conservative Union chairman Matthew Schlapp, is lobbying for Twin River Management Group, which operates both Rhode Island casinos. Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, is the White House strategic communications director." (Washington Post)
  • The House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt as President Trump asserted executive privilege over the Mueller investigation. "The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to recommend that the House hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over Robert S. Mueller III’s unredacted report, hours after President Trump asserted executive privilege to shield the full report and underlying evidence from Congress. The committee’s 24-to-16 contempt vote, taken after hours of debate over the future of American democracy, was the first official House action to punish a government official in the standoff over the Mueller report." (New York Times)

around the world

Image credit: Democracy Chronicles.
  • Free speech remains under threat in Myanmar despite recent release of jailed journalists. "Media groups and human rights advocates are celebrating the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who spent more than 500 days in detention for their role in investigating the massacre of some Rohingya residents in northern Myanmar. But despite their release, the state of free speech in the country is still undermined by the continued detention and persecution of some artists, journalists, and activists. Consider the following cases…" (Global Voices)
  • In an effort to scrub violent content are social networks deleting evidence of war crimes? "…a breakthrough for a powerful new tool: online open-source investigations. Even in no-go combat zones, war crimes and other abuses often leave behind an information trail. By piecing together information that becomes publicly accessible on social media and other sites, internet users can hold the perpetrators accountable—that is, unless algorithms developed by the tech giants expunge the evidence first." (The Atlantic)
  • This Mauritanian blogger escaped the death penalty, but not jail. "Despite having his death sentence commuted more than a year ago, Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir is still in prison. Ould Mkhaitir was sentenced to death in 2014 over an opinion article published on the website of the newspaper Aqlame. In the article, entitled “Religion, Religiosity and Craftsmen”, Ould Mkhaitir criticised the role of religion in Mauritania’s caste system, using stories from the lifetime of prophet Muhammad to support his argument. The original article has since been taken down by Aqlame, but is still available online." (Global Voices)


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