Sunlight Foundation

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Sunlight Foundation
SunlightFoundationLogo 500wide.gif
Founded April 2006 (2006-04)
Founder Mike Klein, Ellen Miller
Type 501(c)(3)
  • 1818 N Street NW, Suite 300
    Washington, DC 20036
Coordinates 38°54′19″N 77°03′02″W / 38.9052°N 77.0506°W / 38.9052; -77.0506Coordinates: 38°54′19″N 77°03′02″W / 38.9052°N 77.0506°W / 38.9052; -77.0506
43, not including founders, fellows, interns, consultants or advisors[1]
Donations totaled US$5.8 million in 2013[2]

The Sunlight Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit organization[3] that was founded in April 2006 with a 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,[4] and advocates for policy changes to build a more open government, builds technological tools to increase the participation of citizens in government, and conducts original reporting on accountability and other open government issues.


The Sunlight Foundation was founded by Ellen S. Miller and Michael R. Klein, because of concerns about the influence of money and relationships, as well as a fear of corruption in the Congress. 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.[4][5][6]


Sunlight Labs was started in May 2006 as a technological transparency initiative.[7] Its first national director was law professor Zephyr Teachout.[8]

Projects include those to track political influence (Influence Explorer), a mechanism to find that pulls campaign contribution data (Poligraft).[9] In June 2006, the Sunlight Foundation reported on Dennis Hastert's fraudulent real estate investments, the first major story for the organization.[10] In January 2007, the Sunlight Foundation launched the collaborative Open House Project to identify opportunities for Congress to embrace online tools.[11]

In February 2007, the Participatory Politics Foundation[12] and the Sunlight Foundation launched, a site to track full text of legislation and build a community to better follow congressional activities.[13] BoingBoing described the site as "ripping open the doors to Congress with Web 2.0".[14] As of January 2010, the site is operated solely by the Participatory Politics Foundation,[15] though the Sunlight Foundation is a primary supporter of the project.

In April 2007, the Sunlight Foundation started Real Time Investigations blog, now known as the Reporting Group, to document the process of investigative reporting and the difficulties in obtaining government information.[16][17] Notable projects include the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, SubsidyScope, and Political Party Time.[18]

In October 2007, the Sunlight Foundation joined Taxpayers for Common Sense to launch, a project that asked citizens to research over 3,000 earmarks and identify the sponsors and recipients.[19]

In 2008, the Open House Project expanded to a project called Public Markup to crowdsource a comprehensive package of government transparency legislation. The outcome of the project has served as a framework for numerous introductions of transparency legislation over the years, including the Transparency in Government Act of 2010[20] that was brought to the floor by Representative Michael Quigley (D-Illinois, 5th).[21][22]

Earlier in 2009, the Sunlight Foundation held the first annual TransparencyCamp,[23] an unconference where open government advocates met to discuss problems and solutions with government data. The Washington Post called the 2010 event "the place to be" to leverage technologies to build stronger democracies.[24] By 2012, TransparencyCamp expanded significantly to include than 400 people from 27 countries and 26 states with plans to hold similar events around the world.[25]

In July 2009, the Sunlight Foundation received the Public Access to Government Information Award from the American Association of Law Libraries "in recognition of their outstanding efforts to promote government openness and accountability through the use of cutting-edge technologies."[26]

In March 2010, the Sunlight Foundation announced the Design for America contest to encourage visualizations to make complex government information more understandable to citizens.[27][28]

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.[29]

In September 2010, the Sunlight Foundation unveiled a project called ClearSpending that analyzed how well government agencies were reporting their spending data on[30] It found that $1.3 trillion in federal reporting data had been inaccurately reported in 2009. The Sunlight Foundation has testified twice before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee[31] about the project, and the report was updated in September 2011 to include continued 2010 data inaccuracies.[32]

In August 2011, the Sunlight Foundation launched a series of applications for Roku players that enables users to watch live and archived content from Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court.[33]

In November 2011, the Sunlight Foundation released a project investigating the complex system of corporate identifiers called Six Degrees of Corporations.[34] The project explored the U.S. government's reliance on DUNS numbers and used an interactive visualization to show the tangled connections between companies listed in the federal database,

In December 2011, the Sunlight Foundation launched Capitol Words, a site to research the most popular words and phrases spoken in Congress since 1996. Using data from the Congressional Record, Capitol Words allows watchdogs and journalists track turns-of-phrase by politician, date, or state.[35]

In April 2012, the Sunlight Foundation released Upwardly Mobile, a free webapp to research where in the United States individuals could enjoy financial security and an improved quality of life.[36] 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 - each weighted differently based on the priorities of the user.[37][38]

Demonstrators from the Sunlight Foundation outside Federal Election Commission offices as they discuss the application of Colbert Super PAC

The Sunlight Foundation unveiled the Politwoops project in May 2012 that archives deleted tweets by U.S. politicians.[39][40] The site launched with an archive of thousands of tweets and prompted Rep. Jeff Miller to completely delete his Twitter account after his tweet[41] questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship was made public.[42] 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,[43] violations of the social media policies of the House of Representatives' Congressional Handbook by tweeting campaign information[44] 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.[45] TIME Magazine selected Politwoops as one of their 50 Best Websites of 2012 calling it "strangely fascinating."[46]

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.[47][48] During beta testing Scout helped a coalition of transparency advocates oppose and remove an overly broad FOIA exemption for a bill.[49][50] The second is Call on Congress, a toll free phone number reached at 1-888-907-6886 to learn about what Congress is doing.[51] InfoDocket, a library journal, called Call on Congress an "impressive, important, and useful service."[52] 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.[53]

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.[54] 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[55]

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.[56] The project was based on a British website named "" that allows users to scan text for comparison with UK national press and BBC articles.[57] 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, is a non-profit tool that "help the public distinguish between original journalism and ‘churnalism’."[58]

Mobile projects[edit]

"Congress" is a free congressional directory for phones running the Android and iOS operating systems.[59][60] 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.[61] Using publicly available APIs, the app presents infographics with statistics on the people, housing, events, environment and history of a location.[62] One week after launch, the app received more than 20,000 downloads,[63]

Leading up to the November elections in August 2012, 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.[64] 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.[65] Ad Hawk was labeled an Essential App by Gizmodo[66] and received more than 5,500 downloads just 12 days after launch.[67]

"Real Time Congress" is a free application to access real-time information about Congress on an iPhone.[68] It puts the actions, meetings and documents that make up the legislative process into the iPhone mobile interface.

"Sunlight Health" is a free application to look up healthcare services, medical suppliers, and prescription drugs.[69] Using data from government and nonprofit institutions, the app shows government ratings of hospitals and nursing homes, nearby locations to purchase home medical supplies, and research on various prescription drug options.


  1. ^ "The Sunlight Team". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  2. ^ "Funding for The Sunlight Foundation". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  3. ^ IRS (2007-10-01). "IRS Form 903" (PDF). 
  4. ^ a b Birnbaum, Jeffrey (2006-04-26). "Aiming to Shed Light on Lawmakers". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  5. ^ Tenenbaum, Elysha (2006-04-27). "New Group Sees Public Craving Ethics Reform". Roll Call (Sunlight Foundation). 
  6. ^ "Ellen Miller on C-Span's Washington Journal". C-SPAN. 2006-05-22. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  7. ^ "Launching 'Sunlight Labs'". Sunlight Foundation Blog. 2006-05-10. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  8. ^ "SUNLIGHT ANNOUNCES THREE NEW HIRES". Sunlight Foundation. June 20, 2006. Retrieved May 30, 2014. 
  9. ^ Marshall Kirkpatrick (2009-04-20). "Sunlight Foundation Funds Six Apps for America". ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  10. ^ "Speaker Hastert's Land Deal Questioned". CBS News. Associated Press. 2006-06-22. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  11. ^ "A Checklist for Online Sunshine". The News & Observer. 2008-01-24. Retrieved 2010-08-03. 
  12. ^ Participatory Politics Foundation
  13. ^ "Open Congress". Christopher Hayes, editor of The Nation. 2007-02-26. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  14. ^ "OpenCongress -- ripping open the doors to Congress with Web 2.0". BoingBoing. 2007-02-26. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  15. ^ "Participatory Politics Foundation - Projects Page" Retrieved 2010-08-09
  16. ^ "Sunlight Foundation Launches New Real Time Journalism Project". Sunlight Foundation Press Center. 2007-04-20. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  17. ^ "What we're up to". Sunlight Foundation Real Time Investigations Blog. 2007-03-22. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  18. ^ "About Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group". Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group. Retrieved 2010-08-09. 
  19. ^ Suzanne Perry (2008-01-10). "Seeking Online Exposure". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  20. ^ H.R. 4983 - The Transparency in Government Act of 2010
  21. ^ "Quigley Introduces Landmark Transparency Bill" Official Website of Congressman Mike Quigley, Representing the 5th District of Illinois. Retrieved 2010-08-03
  22. ^ Rep. Quigley Introduces the Transparency in Government Act: You Helped Make it Happen Sunlight Foundation Blog. 2010-03-25. Retrieved 2010-08-03
  23. ^ TransparencyCamp
  24. ^ Musgrove, Mike (2010-04-04). "A hotbed of techie agents of government transparency". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  25. ^ "TransparencyCamp 2012: Reflections, Next Steps, and Thanks". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  26. ^ "Public Access To Government Information Award" Official Website of the American Association of Law Libraries. Retrieved 2011-01-11
  27. ^ "Sunlight Labs Announces Design for America Competition". Sunlight Foundation. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  28. ^ Andrew Price (2010-05-03). "Design for America: Help Make Government Data Easier to Understand". GOOD Magazine Blog. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  29. ^ "Sunlight Live's Real-Time Participation Wins $10,000 Knight-Batten Innovation Award". Knight Foundation. The Institute for Interactive Journalism. 2010-07-19. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  30. ^ Ellen Miller (2010-09-08). "Clearspending. That's What We Need.". Sunlight Foundation. Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  31. ^ " - Media" Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2011-10-04
  32. ^ Kaitlin Lee (2011-09-19). "Clearspending 2011: Still Over $1.3 Trillion in Broken Spending Reporting". Sunlight Foundation. Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  33. ^ "Sunlight Foundation - Stream the Federal Government to Your Roku Box". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  34. ^ Kaitlin Lee (2011-11-01). "We Can't Have Corporate Accountability Until We Have Corporate Identifiers". Sunlight Foundation. Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-21. 
  35. ^ Nicko Margolies (2011-12-12). "Announcing the Return of "Capitol Words"". Sunlight Foundation. Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-21. 
  36. ^ "Announcing Upwardly Mobile". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  37. ^ "Would You Be Better Off in a Different City?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  38. ^ "Is it time for you to move?". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  39. ^ "Announcing Politwoops: Deleted Tweets from U.S. Politicians". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  40. ^ "What Tweets Do Politicians Delete? 'Politwoops' Can Tell You". NPR. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  41. ^ "Politwoops: Jeff Miller (R)". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  42. ^ "Congressman’s Deleted Twitter Poll: "Was Obama Born in the United States?"". Slate. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  43. ^ "Erroneous #Scotus Tweets Saved Forever". The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  44. ^ "Twoops! Romney-Ryan ticket has some lawmakers violating congressional Twitter rules". Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  45. ^ "Politicians Delete Digital Praise of Bowe Bergdahl Release". Mashable. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  46. ^ "50 Best Websites 2012". TIME Magazine. 2012-09-18. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  47. ^ "Scout: Sunlight's New Custom Alert Service". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  48. ^ "Researching Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: A Guide to Resources for Congressional Staff". Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  49. ^ "Sunlight’s Scout is a promising new tool". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  50. ^ "Scout is Already Delivering Results". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  51. ^ "Announcing Call on Congress: Bringing Capitol Hill to Any Phone". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  52. ^ "Call on Congress: A New/Free Telephone Service to Access Info About the U.S. Congress". InfoDocket. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  53. ^ "Low-Tech Phone Service Connects Citizens to Congressional Info". Government Technology. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  54. ^ "Low-Tech Phone Service Connects Citizens to Congressional Info". Mediabistro's 10,000 Words. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  55. ^ "Sunlight Goes Back to School". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  56. ^ Rebecca J. Rosen (23 April 2013). "Is It Journalism, or Just a Repackaged Press Release? Here's a Tool to Help You Find Out". The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  57. ^ "Search". Media Standards Trust. 2013. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  58. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Media Standards Trust. 2013. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  59. ^ "Congress for your Android Phone!". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2010-10-27. 
  60. ^ "Congress for Windows Phone 7". AppsFuze. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  61. ^ "Sitegeist: Uncover the Data Around You". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  62. ^ "The Data and Tech Behind Sitegeist". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  63. ^ "Sitegeist: A Week After Launch". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  64. ^ "Ad Hawk: Identify Political Ads As They Air". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  65. ^ "New Features for Ad Hawk". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  66. ^ "The New Essential Apps August 2012". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  67. ^ "Fact Attack: A New App Watches Political Ads Like a Hawk". Philadelphia Weekly. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  68. ^ "Why You Need to Download the Real Time Congress App for iPhone now". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  69. ^ "Introducing Sunlight Health". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 

External links[edit]