Today in OpenGov: The billionaire’s gambit


In today's edition, Tom Steyer appears to have lost a big bet, House Democrats turn their eye towards President Trump's G7 dream, Mexican journalists face danger, and more. 

washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • The FEC will probably be without a quorum for a while, but rule breakers won't be able to operate completely without oversight. "Even as the Federal Election Commission prepares to grind to a halt on the cusp of the 2020 elections, campaign finance experts say politicians and donors who flout the nation’s political money rules may still suffer consequences…Still, those who advise campaigns and donors, or focus on political money law, say the 2020 campaigns won’t be entirely without legal checks or public relations concerns." (Roll Call)
  • A Koch brothers dark money group is asking the Supreme Court for help keeping its donors under wraps in California. "The Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a libertarian nonprofit founded by Charles and David Koch, filed a petition this week at the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to review a 2018 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that would require Americans for Prosperity and other California-registered charitable foundations to disclose their major donors to the California Attorney General." (Reuters)
  • Tom Steyer's big money gambit didn't buy him into September's 2020 Democratic presidential debate. "Tom Steyer just lost a $16 million bet. The Democratic hedge fund billionaire leapt into the presidential campaign late with a clear plan: use his mega-wealth to buy his way into the televised party debates, and then use that platform, and his unelected outsider persona, to challenge the front-runners. Steyer spent millions of dollars on TV ads to boost his poll numbers in early caucus and primary states and on digital ads to meet the donor requirements set by the Democratic National Committee. But after Wednesday’s deadline, Steyer was one poll short of the four 2-percent showings he needed to make the stage, leaving him out of the September debate. He could still make the October stage with one more poll, but his failed fast-track bid to get into the next debate is a signal that Steyer’s young campaign is not gaining traction the way he hoped it would." (POLITICO)
  • Facebook is set to tighten its rules for verifying political advertisers on its platform. "Facebook said Wednesday that it was strengthening how it verified which groups and people place political advertising on its site, as the social network braces for the 2020 presidential election in the United States and works to reduce the spread of online disinformation. The moves build on rules that Facebook introduced last year, when it began requiring political advertisers to divulge the name of the organizations responsible for ads on its platform and to prove their identities." (New York Times)


The Trump International Doral Miami. Image credit: slgckgc.
  • House Democrats push back against President Trump's attempts to secure the G-7's business for his Florida golf club. "Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee slammed President Donald Trump’s push to host the G-7 summit next year at his Doral resort in Miami, deriding the move as 'only the latest in a troubling pattern of corruption and self-dealing' by the president and pledging to consider it as part of their impeachment investigation. Though Trump has not said that the decision is final, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who leads the committee’s panel on the Constitution, said in a statement Wednesday that selecting Doral as the host of the next summit would be a potential violation of both the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments clauses in the Constitution, aimed at barring presidents from taking outside gifts." (POLITICO)
  • Employers are pretty much free to try and influence their employees political choices. This Trump appearance helps explain how. "When President Donald Trump arrived in western Pennsylvania this month to give a speech about energy policy at a Royal Dutch Shell plant, he had a ready-made audience composed of workers who, it turns out, were paid to be there. The company suggested that the event was simply a “training day” featuring an unusually prominent guest speaker, and offered that workers could take a day of paid time off instead of attending, which would mean they would lose overtime pay. That alternative may have been realistic for some workers, but others must have felt that the only option was to appear as a living backdrop for the president…This example is unusually high-profile, but politics and work often come together to workers’ detriment. This dynamic can take different forms, but all variations on the theme raise similar problems: Employers have a largely unconstrained ability to try to influence their workers’ political choices." (The Atlantic)
  • Did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, considering a Senate bid, fail to disclose previous business ties with foreign governments? "Digging through corporate records and archival websites, it turns out there are three possible cases in which Pompeo could have admitted to engaging in business transactions with a company controlled by a foreign government…as far as we can tell, there was almost no review of these issues, except for a QFR that Pompeo dismissed in a pro forma response. We are puzzled why he would maintain that his answer on the SSCI questionnaire was correct when documents and records with his signature related to Sinopec indicate otherwise." (Washington Post)

around the world

One third of the journalists killed around the world in 2019 have been in Mexico. Via CPJ.
  • 2019 has been a particularly deadly year for Mexican journalists. "Mexico has long been a dangerous place to be a journalist, but this year’s statistics are particularly worrying. Condés is the fourth reporter to have been killed in the past month…According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, all three reporters had recently received threats, or otherwise expressed fears for their safety." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Sudan's Access to Information Act needs revision as the country moves towards democratic rule. "The month of December 2018 marked a turning point in contemporary Sudanese history. What started as peaceful demonstrations in a few cities outside the capital, Khartoum, morphed into a political revolution that deposed a military regime that ruled the country for 30 years under former President Omar Bashir. Such a regime did not sustain itself merely through the execution of enemies, civil wars, and corruption — it also legislated and enacted laws that protected and served its interests. One of these laws is the Sudanese Access to Information Act of 2015. The law — still implemented today —places several restrictions on the right to access information. In this post-revolution Sudan period, activists say the law should be amended as part of the country’s long road to democratic and civilian rule." (Global Voices)
  • In Spain, the public struggles to see algorithms used by publicly funded software. "…Civio asked to see the source code for the algorithm that was being used to determine eligibility. The idea was to find out how the official algorithm worked so that the Web site could be tweaked to give the same results. As Civio wrote in a blog post, that didn't go so well…Civio was not the only one to have problems finding out why details of the algorithm could not be released. The non-profit research and advocacy organization AlgorithmWatch also asked several times exactly whose copyright would be violated if the source code of the governmental BOSCO software were shared, but without success. The fact that code, apparently public-funded and thus not subject to copyright, is nonetheless being withheld for reasons of copyright, is one unsatisfactory feature of the BOSCO saga. Another is that secret government algorithms are being used to make important decisions about citizens." (TechDirt)


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