|This article may rely excessively on sources too closely associated with the subject, potentially preventing the article from being verifiable and neutral. (October 2014)|
|Motto||Making government & politics more accountable & transparent|
|Founder||Mike Klein, Ellen Miller|
|Focus||Government transparency, money in politics|
|Products||Influence Explorer, OpenCongress.org|
|43, not including founders, fellows, interns, consultants or advisors|
|Donations totaled US$5.8 million in 2013|
The Sunlight Foundation is an American 501(c)(3) nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open government. The organization was founded in April 2006 with the goal of increasing transparency and accountability in the United States Congress, the executive branch, and in state and local governments. The foundation's primary focus is the role of money in politics.
The Sunlight Foundation was founded by Ellen S. Miller and Michael R. Klein due to their concern about the influence of money in politics. The Sunlight Foundation was launched in April 2006 with a $3.5 million contribution from co-founder Klein, a securities lawyer who started a firm called CoStar Group Inc. in the 1980s. The first national director of the Sunlight Foundation was law professor Zephyr Teachout.
The Sunlight Foundation's initiatives include Sunlight Labs, which is an open source community that collects and organizations public data; Influence Explorer, which is an online tool for tracking money in politics; and Foreign Influence Explorer, which tracks lobbyists who represent foreign clients in Washington D.C.
In 2006, the Sunlight Foundation provided funding to the Center for Responsive Politics to improve its campaign finance and lobbying listings and to the Center for Media and Democracy to oversee a joint project called Congresspedia. In June 2006, the Sunlight Foundation reported on Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert's real estate investments, accusing Hastert of not divulging connections between a $207 million earmark he won for a highway and an investment he and his wife made in nearby land.
In January 2007, the Sunlight Foundation launched the Open House Project, a working group designed to make congressional procedures more transparent. In February 2007, the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation launched OpenCongress.org, a site to track the full text of legislation and build a community to better follow congressional activities. Originally run by the Participatory Politics Foundation with funding from the Sunlight Foundation, in 2013 the Sunlight Foundation overtook operations of OpenCongress.org.
In October 2007, the Sunlight Foundation joined Taxpayers for Common Sense to launch EarmarkWatch.org, a project that asked citizens to research over 3,000 earmarks and identify the sponsors and recipients. In 2008, the Sunlight Foundation launched a project called Public Markup. The project crowdsourced ideas for model transparency legislation.
In 2009, the Sunlight Foundation held the first annual TransparencyCamp, a conference where open government advocates met to discuss problems and solutions with government data.
In March 2010, the Sunlight Foundation announced the Design for America contest to encourage visualizations to make complex government information more understandable to citizens.
In July 2010, the Sunlight Foundation won the grand prize of the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism for their Sunlight Live project that incorporates streaming video, liveblogging, social networking, and data presentation.
In April 2012, the Sunlight Foundation released Upwardly Mobile, a web application to research where in the United States individuals could enjoy financial security and an improved quality of life. The relocation search tool is mostly powered by publicly available federal economic data that includes employment, salaries, average rents, and local medical and transportation costs.
The Sunlight Foundation unveiled the Politwoops project in May 2012 that archives deleted tweets by U.S. politicians. The site launched with an archive of thousands of tweets and prompted Rep. Jeff Miller to completely delete his Twitter account after his tweet questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship was made public. Other incidents exposed by Politwoops include a number of Republican politicians reacting to incorrect news of the ruling in the Supreme Court's case about health care reform, violations of the social media policies of the House of Representatives' Congressional Handbook by tweeting campaign information and six politicians who deleted tweets praising and welcoming home Taliban prisoner Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after questions arose over the prisoner swap that freed him. TIME Magazine selected Politwoops as one of their 50 Best Websites of 2012 calling it "strangely fascinating."
At the Personal Democracy Forum in June 2012, the Sunlight Foundation unveiled two new projects to help citizens follow the activities of government. The first is Scout, a tool to create customized keyword alerts that notify users whenever the subscribed issue or bill is talked about in Congress, mentioned in the Federal Register or comes up in state legislation. During beta testing Scout helped a coalition of transparency advocates oppose and remove an overly broad FOIA exemption for a bill. The second is Call on Congress, a toll free phone number reached at 1-888-907-6886 to learn about what Congress is doing. InfoDocket, a library journal, called Call on Congress an "impressive, important, and useful service." The project hopes to bridge the digital divide by letting callers find out how their representatives are voting on bills and raising campaign money or connect directly to the lawmakers’ Capitol Hill offices and get details on where to vote on Election Day.
In August 2012, the Sunlight Foundation launched Sunlight Academy, an interactive training portal to help journalists, staffers, or citizens use transparency tools to research issues more effectively. The free courses include information about how to interpret a lobbying contribution report, how to make a data visualization, and how to find specific information on Data.gov.
The online Churnalism tool was launched on April 23, 2013 and was described by web developer Kaitlin Devine as "an open-source plagiarism detection engine." The tool allows users to scan any text, such as news articles and Wikipedia pages, for comparison with corpus of press releases so that the two sources can be compared and analyzed for similarities. The project was based on a British website named "Churnalism.com" that allows users to scan text for comparison with UK national press and BBC articles. The term "churnalism" was used by author Nick Davies to describe journalists "who are no longer gathering news but are reduced instead to passive processors of whatever material comes their way, churning out stories, whether real event or PR artifice, important or trivial, true or false.” Built by the Media Standards Trust, Churnalism.com is a non-profit tool that "help the public distinguish between original journalism and ‘churnalism’."
"Congress" is a free congressional directory for phones running the Android and iOS operating systems. Using the Sunlight Labs API, it shows up-to-date info about members of Congress, committees, votes, and measures under consideration.
In December 2012, the Sunlight Foundation launched "Sitgeist," an Android and iPhone app to help users learn about their surroundings using open data. Using publicly available APIs, the app presents infographics with statistics on the people, housing, events, environment and history of a location. One week after launch, the app received more than 20,000 downloads,
Leading up to the November 2012 elections, the Sunlight Foundation launched an Android and iPhone app called "Ad Hawk" to identify political ads as they air. Similar to many song identification services, Ad Hawk makes an acoustic fingerprint based on audio recorded while a television or radio ad plays and compares it against a central database for a match. Ad Hawk will return contextual information from a variety of sources about the candidate, organization and issues ads if a match is found. The database includes more than 2,300 congressional and presidential ads and a glossary of common campaign terms. Ad Hawk was labeled an Essential App by Gizmodo and received more than 5,500 downloads just 12 days after launch.
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