When Mike Klein took me out to lunch last fall – and started off by quoting Justice Brandeis’ adage “Sunlight in the best of disinfectants….” I responded: “…Electric light the most efficient policeman.” If you can finish someone else’s somewhat obscure quote about “transparency” odds are you are destined to be partners.
Even though Mike and I didn’t know it at the time, it was at that moment that the idea of creating the Sunlight Foundation came into existence – the notion of creating a new institution that focuses on enabling citizens to become their own watchdogs for the express purpose of giving them the tools to shine thousands, indeed perhaps millions, of flashlights on what Congress is doing. Sunlight’s goal is to provide tools, information and resources to encourage citizens, bloggers and investigative media to explore whether and/or how their representatives influenced by money and lobbyists, to provide ways to engage their natural curiosity about who their representatives really represent and what they do in Washington, and to provide forums and interactions to build the community of people who care about our democracy.
I know something about the state of the Washington influence game. In 1984, I took over the-then fledgling Center for Responsive Politics and along with numerous very talented colleagues developed it into the premier group that follows money in politics. In 1997, I founded Public Campaign, and again, with a group of extraordinarily talented activists, made huge inroads in promoting a system of full public financing. After more years both as an advocate and working in the world of journalism, I feel like I’ve come full circle. Reform is a hard row to hoe (whether it’s Republicans or Democrats in charge) and so until the political ferment for systemic reform is built at the grassroots, let the sun shine in.
And so to that end, Sunlight is launching, riding on a wave of disgust and cynicism nearly at all time levels. Taking the current political environment , the power of the Internet and new informatio technology, and the 24/7 news cycle, we see an extraordinary opportunity to take the lid off the Capitol and shine alot of light into the dark corridors of power.
My regular commentary here will be about the goals and projects of Sunlight, offering thoughts and soliciting feedback and ideas, and listening to what you have to say about how to make the day to day work of the Congress, and its members, more open, accessible and responsive to the people they are elected to serve. I’m blogging because we want to hear specifically what ideas you have to make Congress more transparent. In future postings, I’ll tell you lots more about where we hope to go, and what we want to achieve, and indeed, much more about the extraordinary talent we are bringing to this new institution.