The Sunlight Foundation is a 501(c)(3) educational organization founded in April 2006 with the goal of increasing transparency and accountability in the United States government. The foundation encourages citizen and blogger participation by aggregating existing information and digitizing new information as well as advocating for policy changes to build a more open government.
A PBS article quoted the Washington Examiner's editorial page editor, Mark Tapscott, saying that "On the key point of bringing the federal government into the digital age and thereby vastly increasing its transparency and accountability, I think Sunlight is doing more good things on a wider front than anybody has ever before done."
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. In an October 2006 CNN poll, half of all Americans believed most members of Congress were corrupt, and more than a third believed their own representative was crooked, both numbers up from the beginning of that year. Furthermore, sixty-one percent of voters said they expected inaccurate results because of technical glitches, while two-thirds said it was likely that hackers or political operatives would prevent the machines from producing an accurate count. The Sunlight Foundation was launched in April 2006 with a $3.5 million contribution from co-founder Michael R. Klein, a securities lawyer.
With a dream of 'one-click political influence disclosure' the Sunlight Foundation launched Sunlight Labs in May 2006 to gather the power of developers and designers for transparency projects. In addition to building all the projects that the Sunlight Foundation produces, Sunlight Labs serves as a community of more than 1,500 who discuss and build on ideas to improve government openness. Notable Sunlight Labs projects include the National Data Catalog that indexes government datasets, Poligraft that pulls campaign contribution data out of any body of text, and contests to encourage innovation through government data. Apps for America began in 2009 to spur developers to build applications on top of open data and continued with a second contest in 2010, building on the newly launched Data.gov.
In June 2006 the Sunlight Foundation reported on Dennis Hastert's fraudulent real estate investments, the first major story for the organization.
In January 2007 the Sunlight Foundation launched the collaborative Open House Project to identify opportunities for Congress to embrace online tools. The project successfully encouraged Congress to adopt more flexible member websites, better committee information, more video content, and XML versions of votes.
In February 2007 the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation launched OpenCongress.org, a site to track full text of legislation and build a community to better follow congressional activities. BoingBoing described the site as "ripping open the doors to Congress with Web 2.0". As of January 2010 the site is operated solely by the Participatory Politics Foundation, though the Sunlight Foundation continues to be the 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. Notable projects include the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, SubsidyScope, and Political Party Time.
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 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 that was brought to the floor by Representative Michael Quigley (D-Illinois, 5th).
Earlier in 2009 the Sunlight Foundation held the first annual Transparency Camp, 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.
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."
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 September 2010 the Sunlight Foundation unveiled a project called ClearSpending that analyzed how well government agencies were reporting their spending data on USASpending.gov. 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 about the project, and the report was updated in September 2011 to include continued 2010 data inaccuracies.
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.
In November 2011 the Sunlight Foundation released a project investigating the complex system of corporate identifiers called Six Degrees of Corporations. 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, USASpending.gov.
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.
Congress, Android and Windows Phone app
Congress is a free congressional directory for phones running the Android and Windows Phone operating system. Using the Sunlight Labs API, it shows up-to-date info about members of Congress, and adds updates from members' Twitter and YouTube accounts.
Real Time Congress, iPhone app
Real Time Congress is a free application to access real-time information about Congress on an iPhone. It puts the actions, meetings and documents that make up the legislative process into the iPhone mobile interface.
Sunlight Health, Android and iPhone app
Sunlight Health is a free application to look up healthcare services, medical suppliers and prescription drugs. 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.
Sunlight Foundation board