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What’s New in Civic Tech: Transparency Groups Support Honest Ads Act

Plus, Sacramento, Calif., is accepting applicants for $1 million in innovation grants, San Antonio announces 2018 CivTechSA Residency Program winners, and Aurora, Ill., works to create a smart park.

by / April 12, 2018
The U.S. Capitol. (AP/Jon Elswick)

As social networks like Facebook weather ongoing scrutiny over enabling Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, nonprofit transparency and pro-democracy groups continue to voice support for the Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that has been introduced in both houses of Congress.

In a group letter to U.S. senators on April 11, nearly 30 such groups called for policymakers to pass the act, which would strengthen disclosure requirements for political ads online. Under the law, any digital platform with at least 50 million monthly views would be required to maintain a public file of any electioneering items purchased by a person or group that spends more than $500. That file would include a digital copy of the ad, a description of audience targets, the number of views it generated, time of publication, rate charged and contact information for the purchaser.

The groups calling for this act are wide ranging, including the Sunlight Foundation, Issue One, League of Women Voters, Democracy 21 and the Center for Digital Democracy, among others.

The letter does not mince words.

“The bill recognizes that voters have a right to know about foreign sponsors and funders of campaign-related Internet ads,” the groups wrote. “Our organizations and experts strongly urge you to support the Honest Ads Act and to publicly press for prompt passage of the bill by Congress. This is not only a campaign finance issue. This is a matter of the utmost importance to our national security, to the integrity of our elections, and to protecting our democracy from sabotage by foreign adversaries.”

The details of Russian meddling in the most recent U.S. election are murky. The White House has penalized Russia over it, but information has continued to emerge that indicates platforms such as Facebook were used as tools to distribute false information, and investigations into what occurred are ongoing.

Sacramento, Calif., Is Accepting Applications for $1 Million in Innovation Grants

Sacramento, Calif., is now accepting applications for $1 million in innovation grants being offered up through its Rapid Acceleration, Innovation and Leadership in Sacramento (RAILS) program.

Stakeholders announced the start of the application process for this year earlier this month. The framework for the RAILS program was approved by the Sacramento City Council in June 2016 as part of an effort to expand the startup pipeline in the city and foster a more robust innovation ecosystem. This is the second year the money will be distributed.

Notable differences from the previous class include this year’s program requiring that startups are focused on advancing through the Sacramento Urban Technology Lab framework as well. Officials involved with the application process have encouraged would-be participants to focus projects around workforce development of young people as well as around serving low-income and underserved communities.

Grants are split into three categories of varying amounts, with those being acceleration grants, innovation grants, and leadership grants. Frequently asked questions, as well as the application itself, are available on the RAILS program website.

San Antonio Announces 2018 CivTechSA Residency Program Winners

San Antonio has named the winners for its 2018 CivTechSA Residency Program, which aims to connect local government with the tech and entrepreneurial communities in the Alamo City, simultaneously solving civic challenges while growing the startup ecosystem there.

This year’s winners were Kinetech Cloud, a cloud-native company that will work with the San Antonio Department of Human Services, and Reckon Point, which will work with the airport. These two companies essentially make up the inaugural class for CivTechSA, which is a localized variation of the now-nationwide Startup in Residence program. Throughout the next 16 weeks, the startups will work closely with their respective public agencies to build custom solutions for challenges there.

The work that Kinetech will be doing is centered around streamlining the city’s current application system for utility assistance, which at the moment necessitates a paper application that must be mailed in or dropped off in person, both of which are things gov tech solutions work to eliminate. Due to the paper process, public agencies must manually sort through applications to determine eligibility en route to establishing who gets assistance. Kinetech Cloud aims to create a solution capable of pre-screening eligibility, ending automatic updates to applicants and validating required documentation before allowing submission.

Reckon Point, meanwhile, will help the airport collect and manage flight info while also working to unify the airport’s current mapping applications. More info is available here.

Aurora, Ill., Works to Create a Smart Park

Aurora, Ill., one of Chicago’s largest suburbs, recently announced plans to bring fiber-optic infrastructure to RiverEdge Park, essentially turning that public space into what local media is calling a smart park.

This is part of an ongoing expansion of OnLight Aurora, the city’s publicly-owned fiber-optic network, and officials hope it will lead to infrastructure that fosters better security at the park and also provides some control over parking there. Aurora CIO Michael Pegues has said that monitoring and control of parking at RiverEdge Park will let the city provide quicker emergency response and more efficient use of energy.

This is part of an effort underway in Aurora to turn the city into a tech-savvy community, and officials have said they could potentially extend the fiber-optic network into nearby areas such as Naperville or North Aurora.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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