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First POST: Corruption, Shmorruption!

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, April 2 2014

Corruption, Shmorruption!

  • By a 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court ruled this morning in McCutcheon vs FEC that "spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder's official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Not does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner 'influence over or access to' elected officials or political parties."

  • Also, the same majority ruled that the Pope is not Catholic, the sky is not blue, and that bears shit in bathrooms.

  • The new potential cap on direct individual contributions to federal parties, candidates and committees will rise from $123,000 to more than $3.6 million as a result, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

  • Two-thirds of the top 1,000 political donors in America--the ones whose wallets will most be in demand now that McCutcheon eliminates aggregate contribution limits--are Republicans, reports Sunlight Foundation's Lee Drutman.

  • What remains to be seen is whether Congress will take up the Roberts majority's suggestion (p. 5 of McCutcheon) that "Particularly with modern technology, disclosure now offers more robust protections against corruption…"

  • Note to Supreme Court: Did you know that the US Senate still insists on printing out and handing in its campaign finance disclosure statements on paper, forcing the FEC to spend months and extra tax dollars re-keypunching them so they can be re-uploaded?

In other news around the web:

  • US director of national intelligence James Clapper confirms, in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), that the NSA has conducted warrantless searches of Americans communications, The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman reports.

  • Sen. Wyden and Mark Udall (D-CO) responded: "“This is unacceptable. It raises serious constitutional questions, and poses a real threat to the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans. If a government agency thinks that a particular American is engaged in terrorism or espionage, the fourth amendment requires that the government secure a warrant or emergency authorisation before monitoring his or her communications. This fact should be beyond dispute."

  • Michael Geist details how Canadian telcos and internet service providers "hand over subscriber data thousands of times each year without a warrant."

  • OpenGarden's FireChat app is blowing up in Taiwan, TechInAsia's Josh Horwitz reports. The app enables anonymous group messaging using peer-to-peer connections and Bluetooth, which means the Internet public doesn't need the public Internet anymore. And as Horwitz points out, it's perfect for safe communications during a mass political protest:

    Taiwan iPhone owners didn’t have to wait for an excuse before downloading FireChat – the perfect opportunity had already arrived. Over the past several weeks students and citizens have been protesting inside and surrounding the island’s Legislative Yuan (think Parliament), voicing opposition to agreement that would loosen trade restrictions with China (and that was passed without undergoing due process in the legislature). This student movement has been dubbed the “Sunflower Movement” by domestic media and has since been adopted by the movement itself.

  • Talking to CNET's Stephen Shankland, embattled Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich addresses his critics head-on, arguing that Mozilla's core principle has to be "inclusiveness."

  • Mozilla's head of development Geoffrey MacDougall writes a short post that sums up in the roiling conflict inside the organization: a perhaps unresolvable tension between two rights, free speech and equality.

  • A job in New York City's tech sector--even if it isn't a tech job--pays about 45% more than the typical hourly wage for a similar job not in the tech sector, according to a new report commissioned by the NY Tech Meetup, the Association for a Better New York, Citi and Google. (Full disclosure: PDM's Andrew Rasiej is chairman of the NY Tech Meetup.)

  • Here's a full run-down of the NYC tech ecosystem report from our Miranda Neubauer.

  • WNYC wants to get in bed with you. Well, actually, just to get you to share your sleeping hours with them.

  • Adam Conner, Facebook's first employee in Washington D.C. (and a techPresident blog alum) is leaving for "something new in the politics and technology space," Politico's Andrea Drusch and Anna Palmer report.

  • Buzzfeed's Max Seddon and Oleksandr Akymenko serve up dozens of juicy examples of the corruption of Viktor Yanukovych's time in office as Ukraine's head of state, all sourced from the invaluable YanukovychLeaks document trove.

  • Pavel Durov, the free-speaking founder of Russia's VKontakte, has resigned his position as CEO, saying that "it has become increasingly complicated to stick to the principles we once founded our social site on."

  • In Germany, the ministry of labor has made it illegal for managers to call or email employees outside of working hours to help prevent "self-exploitation," Cory Doctorow notes for BoingBoing.

  • The "Humanitarian UAV Network" is now live. (h/t Patrick Meier)

News Briefs

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NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO

Responding to Ferguson, Activists Organize #NMOS14 Vigils Across America In Just 4 Days

This evening peaceful crowds will gather at more than 90 locations around the country to honor the victims of police brutality, most recently the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. A moment of silence will begin at 20 minutes past 7 p.m. (EST). The vigils are being organized almost entirely online by the writer and activist Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones), with help from others from around the country who have volunteered to coordinate a vigil in their communities. Organizing such a large event in only a few days is a challenge, but in addition to ironing out basic logistics, the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) organizers have had to deal with co-optation, misrepresentation, and Google Docs and Facebook pages that are, apparently, buckling under traffic.

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NDI Launches Open Source DemTools for International Development

Yesterday the National Democratic Institute launched a suite of web-based applications created for their partner organizations, mostly pro-democracy groups and political parties around the world. These “DemTools,” which are ready-to-use but can also be customized, will give organizations in developing countries some of the capabilities that political activists and parties in the United States have had for years. Moreover, since the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is making the promise to host partner organization's applications in the cloud essentially forever, they hope these applications will help usher in a period of more sustainable tech.

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