Sunlight Foundation

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Sunlight Foundation
SunlightFoundationLogo 500wide.gif
Motto Making government & politics more accountable & transparent
Founded April 2006 (2006-04)
Founder Mike Klein, Ellen S. Miller
Type 501(c)(3)
Focus Government transparency, money in politics
  • 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
Products Influence Explorer,
Christopher T. Gates[1]
$8,942,875 (2013)[2]
Expenses $6,971,567 (2013)[2]

The Sunlight Foundation is an American 501(c)(3) nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open government.[3] 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.[4] The foundation's primary focus is the role of money in politics.[5]

Organizational overview[edit]


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.[5][6][7] The first national director of the Sunlight Foundation was law professor Zephyr Teachout.[8]


Ellen Miller, the organization's co-founder, served as the Sunlight Foundation's executive director until announcing her retirement in 2014. In September 2014, Christopher T. Gates was selected as the organization's new president.[1] Gates was formerly the chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party and executive director of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement and the National Civic League.[9] The organization's board of directors includes Mike Klein, Niko Klein, Andrew McLaughlin, Esther Dyson, Allison Fine, Sue Gardner, Mark Horvit, Craig Newmark and Daniel X. O'Neil.[10]


In July 2009, the Sunlight Foundation received the Public Access to Government Information Award from the American Association of Law Libraries.[11]

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.[12]


The Sunlight Foundation's donors include the Open Society Institute, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Omidyar Network.[13][14][15]


The Sunlight Foundation's initiatives include Sunlight Labs, which is an open source community that collects and organizes public data;[16] Influence Explorer, which is an online tool for tracking money in politics;[17] and Foreign Influence Explorer, which tracks lobbyists who represent foreign clients in Washington D.C.[18]

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.[5] 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.[19]

Open House Project and[edit]

In January 2007, the Sunlight Foundation launched the Open House Project, a working group designed to make congressional procedures more transparent.[20] In February 2007, the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation launched, a site to track the full text of legislation and build a community to better follow congressional activities.[20] Originally run by the Participatory Politics Foundation with funding from the Sunlight Foundation, in 2013 the Sunlight Foundation overtook operations of[21][edit]

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.[22] In 2008, the Sunlight Foundation launched a project called Public Markup. The project crowdsourced ideas for model transparency legislation.[23]


Scout is 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.[24] During beta testing Scout helped a coalition of transparency advocates oppose and remove a FOIA exemption for a bill.[25]

Call on Congress[edit]

Call on Congress is a toll free phone number individuals can call to learn about what Congress is doing.[26] 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.[27]


Politwoops archives deleted tweets by U.S. politicians.[28] 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.[29] Other incidents covered 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,[30] violations of the social media policies of the House of Representatives' Congressional Handbook by tweeting campaign information[31] 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.[32] Time selected Politwoops as one of their 50 Best Websites of 2012, calling it "strangely fascinating."[33]

Upwardly Mobile[edit]

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.[34][35]

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


The online Churnalism tool was launched in 2013 in collaboration with the Media Standards Trust as an open-source plagiarism detection engine. The tool allows users to compare two sources of text to analyze similarities.[36][37]

Ad Hawk[edit]

In 2012, the Sunlight Foundation launched a mobile application called "Ad Hawk" to identify political ads. 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 returns information from a variety of sources about the candidate, organization and issues ads if a match is found.[38][39]

Events and contests[edit]

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.[40]

In August 2012, the Sunlight Foundation launched Sunlight Academy, an interactive training portal to help journalists, staffers, and citizens use transparency tools to research issues more effectively.[41]

In March 2010, the Sunlight Foundation announced the Design for America contest to encourage visualizations to make complex government information more understandable to citizens.[42]


  1. ^ a b Lippman, Daniel (September 8, 2014). "Sunlight Foundation picks new chief". Politico. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "IRS Form 990 2013" (PDF). Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Marohn, Kirsti (April 9, 2015). "Website offers peek at politicians' deleted tweets". St. Cloud Times. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  4. ^ Lichterman, Joseph (March 6, 2014). "Q&A: Ellen Miller on the Sunlight Foundation’s role in increasing the availability of open data". Nieman Journalism Lab. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Birnbaum, Jeffrey (2006-04-26). "Aiming to Shed Light on Lawmakers". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  6. ^ Tenenbaum, Elysha (2006-04-27). "New Group Sees Public Craving Ethics Reform". Roll Call (Sunlight Foundation). 
  7. ^ "Ellen Miller on C-Span's Washington Journal". C-SPAN. 2006-05-22. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  8. ^ Mogulescu, Miles (September 11, 2014). "Run, Zephyr, Run -- Teachout Should Challenge Hillary for the Democratic Presidential Nomination". Huffington Post. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  9. ^ Greene, Susan (September 9, 2014). "Chris Gates to head national watchdog group". Colorado Independent. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "Sunlight Foundation Board". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "Public Access To Government Information Award" Official Website of the American Association of Law Libraries. Retrieved 2011-01-11
  12. ^ Cohen, David (July 19, 2010). "2010 Knight-Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism: Sunlight Foundation Wins Grand Prize". Social Times. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  13. ^ "A Brief History of the Sunlight Foundation". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  14. ^ Tapscott, Mark (March 5, 2015). "Sunlight Foundation poses 23 key questions Clinton must answer on her emails". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  15. ^ "The Omidyar way of giving". The Economist. October 26, 2013. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  16. ^ Gilbertson, Scott (March 29, 2010). "Sunlight Labs Offering $5K for Best Government Data Mashups". Wired. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  17. ^ Racino, Brad (January 27, 2014). "How To Uncover A Scandal From Your Couch". KPBS. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  18. ^ Itkowitz, Colby (May 14, 2014). "Which foreign countries spent the most to influence U.S. politics?". Washington Post. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  19. ^ "Speaker Hastert's Land Deal Questioned". CBS News. Associated Press. 2006-06-22. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  20. ^ a b Glaser, Mark (April 4, 2007). "Sunlight Foundation Mixes Tech, Citizen Journalism to Open Congress". PBS. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  21. ^ Margolies, Nicko. "Reintroducing OpenCongress: Now From The Sunlight Foundation". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  22. ^ Suzanne Perry (2008-01-10). "Seeking Online Exposure". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  23. ^ Lai Striland, Sarah (March 31, 2008). "Sunlight Foundation Asks The Public For Ideas On A More Accountable Government". Wired. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  24. ^ "Researching Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: A Guide to Resources for Congressional Staff" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  25. ^ "Sunlight’s Scout is a promising new tool". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  26. ^ "Call on Congress: A New/Free Telephone Service to Access Info About the U.S. Congress". InfoDocket. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  27. ^ "Low-Tech Phone Service Connects Citizens to Congressional Info". Government Technology. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  28. ^ "What Tweets Do Politicians Delete? 'Politwoops' Can Tell You". NPR. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  29. ^ "Congressman’s Deleted Twitter Poll: "Was Obama Born in the United States?"". Slate. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  30. ^ "Erroneous #Scotus Tweets Saved Forever". The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  31. ^ "Twoops! Romney-Ryan ticket has some lawmakers violating congressional Twitter rules". Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  32. ^ "Politicians Delete Digital Praise of Bowe Bergdahl Release". Mashable. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  33. ^ "50 Best Websites 2012". TIME Magazine. 2012-09-18. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  34. ^ "Would You Be Better Off in a Different City?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  35. ^ "Is it time for you to move?". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^ Moore, Martin (April 26, 2013). "How to Detect Original Journalism vs. Churnalism from Press Releases". PBS. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  38. ^ "The New Essential Apps August 2012". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  39. ^ "Fact Attack: A New App Watches Political Ads Like a Hawk". Philadelphia Weekly. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  40. ^ Musgrove, Mike (2010-04-04). "A hotbed of techie agents of government transparency". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  41. ^ "Low-Tech Phone Service Connects Citizens to Congressional Info". Mediabistro's 10,000 Words. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  42. ^ Andrew Price (2010-05-03). "Design for America: Help Make Government Data Easier to Understand". GOOD Magazine Blog. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 

External links[edit]