It Was A Very Good Year


Sunlight hasn’t been around nearly as long as that song — it was first recorded in 1961 and we opened our doors in May of 2006 — but for us 2009 was a very good year. We have you, an amazing staff and boards, and our generous investors to thank for that. Hardly a day went by when a new idea wasn’t hatched, tested or dumped, when a blog item wasn’t posted, when an idea for how to visualize data wasn’t tossed around. The best ideas survived and thrived in the creative, collaborative (and yes, sometimes chaotic) culture Sunlight has nurtured for the past 3 and a half years. We are excited about how far we have come and that we are poised for even bigger strides in the next decade.

A few highlights from this year from my point of view. — our joint project with the Participatory Politics Foundation –launched its most comprehensive site redesign mid-year, improving usability of its tools and clarity of data presentation. In addition, it integrated new useful sources of data and feature sets to make it even easier for individuals and organizations to track and share the best info about their interests  and, as result of the redesign and new features, and hot issues like health care and financial industry reform, OpenCongress has experienced its most-ever sustained traffic levels this year. In fact, in August 2009, shortly after the launch of the redesign, it appeared that OpenCongress became the most-visited government engagement Web site in the U.S., and perhaps in the world. And wait til next year — if you think OpenCongress is a useful site, imagine the same kind of web-based resources rolled out for your state in 2010 based on state legislative data.

Apps for America Contests. Sunlight held two very successful contests this year resulting in the creation of 100 new apps based on government data. (Yes, this data can actually be made interesting and useful for ordinary mortals.) These contests were hugely important to the development of a strong and engaged Sunlight Labs community and for demonstrating an interest in government data. The community exploded reaching over 1,200 participants. Check out some of the wonderful apps if you haven’t seen them already.

The Great American Hackathon was held on December 12-13 just before Sunlight took off for its well-deserved winter break. The Hackathon — run by our Labs team — was a decentralized event held at over 20 venues across the country and its purpose was simple — to get developers to meet each other and to work on new open source open government projects.

Transparency Corps. We launched Transparency Corps this year — Sunlight’s answer to the question we often are asked: ‘How can I help?’ We ran several campaigns on that platform and expect it to become even more active in ‘10. We parsed the Kentucky State Legislature manually, worked with Open New York, collected the number of votes each member of Congress received and ran two earmark-related campaigns. All in all, it resulted in a contribution of 662 volunteer hours for the Sunlight Foundation and 228 hours for partners, and the completion of 8,312 individual tasks. Wow!

Mobile Apps. In the last half of 2009 we developed apps for the iPhone and the Android. The Android app, ‘Congress’, has received over 2,000 downloads which is significant for the Android marketplace. The iPhone app, ‘Real Time Congress’ just received approval and we plan to formally launch it the first week of January, 2010 We also built an overlay of data on the LayAR augmented reality mobile app. This move into the use of augmented reality to show the usefulness of online disclosure of government information has sparked the interest of many. Fairly obviously, expect lots more along these lines in the next year.

Congrelate. Sunlight Labs built Congrelate as a way for people to view, sort, filter and share data about members of Congress and their districts. The Labs compiled data from Congress, the Census,, GovTrack and other sources to let users manipulate the data and see how they relate. Congrelate allows users to select what data they would like to see, add it to a ‘sheet’ then filter and sort through it easily. Congrelate will get renewed attention in 2010 with new data sets added and an improved UI.

Transparency Camps. Sunlight hosted two unconferences this year — one here in DC and one at Google HQ in Mountain View. Through events like this, and our Transparency Breakfasts and Transparency Happy Hours, Sunlight is helping to build new relationships that will hope will create and galvanize a transparency community. We hope you’ll join in these events as we plan more for the coming year. House (and Senate) Expenditures Online. As a direct result of Sunlight’s suggestions, on November 30, the House published their expenditures reports online for the first time. Sunlight had long advocated for such a move, and devoted a section of our Transparency in Government Act (drafted in 2008) to the issue.  (Senate reports will be forthcoming in 2010.) Sunlight quickly crafted an online database of the newly released information, since the House reports were released in a PDF document  (boo…..) rather than a searchable database. (File this one under the category of ‘If Congress won’t do 21st century style transparency we’ll show them how to do it.’)

Read the Bill. Technology makes it possible for anyone to review legislation before it’s considered and tell their representative what they think of it. In 2009 Sunlight began calling for posting all legislation online for 72 hours before its considered by either the House or the Senate. Now thanks to our efforts to heighten public awareness around this, Congress can no longer talk about a piece of major legislation without a reporter asking, ‘will the final version of the bill be online for 72 hours?’ Sunlight has helped to change the conversation and the way the public is thinking about transparency even when transparency laws or regulations have yet to pass. We’ll keep pushing this forward in ’10 to make sure that every bill is available on line before it’s considered by Congress.

Redesigning Government series. In 2009, Sunlight launched an ongoing ‘redesigning’ government series — making mock-up redesigns of GSA, FEC, EPA, FCC and Supreme Court sites, and others. This work resulted in many conversations with each of the agencies about their Web sites and how the agencies could improve the ways they make data available to the public. We even crowd-sourced testimony we presented to the Federal Election Commission with details for their consideration. We think that was first!

Real Time Investigations had an incredibly successful year, using Sunlight and grantee-sponsored tools to push the envelope of transparency, and using shoe leather reporting to find out what the data can tell us about who owes what to whom, how and on what government spends its money. Hundreds of investigative posts were made to the site. Sunlight’s Reporting Group wrote 11 major stories using data from the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker alone. This team was also responsible for training more than 1,250 journalists and bloggers in 2009 an activity that will pay off handsomely as more data comes on line. Next year expect to find many  of these training resources online.

Party Time. Sunlight’s Party Time site now contains more than 6,700 fund-raising invitations and it has become a valuable resource for journalists, bloggers and advocacy groups. In particular, we saw an increase in outside groups using the data to do their own complex analysis. Everyone can follow the money after it’s raised, but only Sunlight gives you an introduction into real time political fund-raising.

The Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker was launched this year, a joint project with ProPublica. The site digitized, for the first time, information from disclosures filed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA, which requires lobbyists for foreign governments to reveal a wealth of information about their lobbying activities, including the dates and subjects of their contacts with members of Congress, their staffers and executive branch officials. The Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker makes more than 13,000 records searchable by lobbyist, client, person contacted and issue raised. The site has been searched 163,104 times by media organizations, citizens and even congressional staff. We will continue this project into 2010 with ProPublica.

There was a lot more. Sunlight worked closely with the Administration to help move them in the right direction on the Open Government Directive and their lobby reform initiatives. We are happy to see our fingerprints in many aspects of what was announced by the White House in late December. So too, Sunlight worked with many players on the Hill to convince them to begin to open up Congressional information. We’ve begun to explore how transparency is practiced — or not — at the state level too. At the end of the year we were hard at work on several major legislative initiatives to be introduced in January of 2010 that would  dramatically improve Congressional transparency.

None of the above speaks to the thousands of blog posts written at Sunlight, Sunlight Labs, Open Congress, Real Time Investigations, or on the Party Time websites, nor the stunning visualizations that accompanied and highlighted many of those posts (think  ‘a picture is worth a 1,000 words’), nor the hours of conversations with elected officials, their staff and administration officials, as we all come to grips with how technology can change how we get access to information and what the public can do with it. Our work on SubsidyScope, the Pew Charitable Trust project for which we are building a database of government subsidies, garnered tremendous kudos for its design and ease of use as the first sectors were released. There are a number of soon to be released projects on which we spent hundreds of hours of development time this year  – new tools that will make it easier for journalists, bloggers and citizens to make use of data in easily understandable ways.

2010 will be an incredible year for us.  Lots of plans are underway. Some I’ve mentioned above, and Clay Johnson, Labs director detailed a number of them including figuring out how to handle the glut of data that government will make available under its Open Government Directive and how to enhance it with state and local government data too; mashing important ‘influence’ and ‘spending’ data sets together so it will be available with a single search; widgets to make following your lawmaker’s campaign contributions and earmarks (and other activities) very easy; launching a new major new campaign to drive public demand for more — more transparency, more data, and a more open government. And always on our list is making all this information more easily available for reporters, bloggers and online citizens like you. We’d love to have your ideas of what you’d find useful. Please leave them in the comment section below.

For all your support and help — and for the hard work of our grantees — we are most grateful. We welcome all your contributions — monetary and participatory. And we hope you will help us keep transparency priceless.

Categorized in:
Share This:

    REAGAN?!! You dare call up reagan to show us the way?? That man spent this country to the brink of bankruptcy and it took decades to get his mess cleaned up and even after all the incompetence he stood for he is called out as some sort of compass? This is beyond ridiculous it is obscene!


    It is way past time for the extremists to be allowed the time to waste blaming and accusing all but themselves for this mess. Responsible intelligent discourse with those of open minds are what is called for now more then ever. I constantly hear nothing but hate and intolerance and disinformation on any and all issues these days and this does nobody any good! Enough already! If your part of this country then roll your sleeves up and get to work fixing what the thugs and hardliners did to us for the last 8 years or get out of the way and quit your whining.

  • Ethan Allen

    Here come the Red Coats!
    Please pass the tea.

  • transparency (trans per’an se~ n.,pl-ces a tranparent film or slide that can be projected on a screen. The problem really is’nt in the transmitting of light rays so the object on the other side may be seen. But in the amount of budget that was already spent in recent terms of government such as the 110 House of representative. And now they slowed the flow. Some of us are not willing to accept that responsibility. Share fairly and try yo understand what the Sunlight Foundation is trying to truly do for us. And maybe, just maybe we can put together a better slide show. That will explain what is going on. I hope that both houses will have the technolgy to show their version of the slide show. To each and every citizen with honesty, integrety, and a symbolized dignity. That we will all be able to understand the constitution, and house rules a little better. Sit back and enjoy the ride. And remind your selfs’ that there is no nobility in this country. Or we can hack all day long which is only making you feel good.

  • Karen

    Transparency? You must be kidding. What country do you live in? The radical, socialist policies of this administration are destroying our country. They try to hide everything they do. 61% of the American people oppose the healthcare bill and my 2 Senators are still voting yes. It isn’t about healthcare — it’s about power. They want to control our lives. Wake up America!

  • Boogie

    Transparency means the government will give us the information they want us to have, and hope that we will not look for what they do not want us to know. What about accountability? The house and the senate have become a cushy retirement community where we bear all the cost and they enjoy ridiculous perks. How can we impose term limits on them when they have to be approved through the House and Senate? Those in Washington are so out of touch with the populous, healthcare is a prime example of this disconnect. Vote them all out.

  • Mari Jo Cline

    A good year? Gimme a break, Sunlight Foundation. You’re a bunch of half-cocked far left lib progressives, helping our Country go futher down the tubes of hell..into socialism or worse. I shoulda been reading your newsletters sooner to realize what Sunlight is really about.

    God help America to get baaacck their freedoms & to what the Founding Fathers meant it to be. God Help America restore The Constitution.

    God have mercy, & help us all to do our part to restore Honor, Freedom, Dignity, & the Return of One Nation Under God!

    Ronald Reagan said, “If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” I truly believe this is why the United States of America is in the shape we are in today. Most people have forgotten that we are one nation under God! And that God is NOT the Government or its leaders…

  • Tim K

    Ms. Miller:

    It would have been more honest of you to say that this has been a very BAD year, with a few good changes.

  • eric ueland

    Do you have your head on straight or blinders on ,are you so arrogant yourselves that you agree with corrupt democrats who support bribes and accept them themselves,haven’t paid taxes etc.are so arrogant that they support a muslim president,do not follow the constitution,dictate to us and insult us.What are you not seeing.100 yrs. of tradition gone,no religion in the white house and what is on the top of the washington monument,all other monuments and our currency;this country was founded on what?it will not chg.democrats are done in nov.,they know it and are starting to do you pass hc with select democrats and bypass procedure and think you will get away with it.not hardley,you will chg. come nov.

  • Elaine

    One step forward, three steps back.

    Obama’s government is not only one of the most corrupt in history, but he has not kept any of this promises of openness or transparency and instead has used every back door he can find to lie, obfuscate, and keep Americans in the dark about his true agenda, which we know is to destroy the power and influence of the U.S., confiscate all private wealth and resources, and transform us into a third-world Socialist tyranny led by the corrupt, anti-human United Nations.

    The Democratic Party is incapable of truth. It is made up of deviants, perverts, anti-American, anti-freedom, Communist, Socialist, Marxist, ultra-radical extremist, Constitution-haters who only want power over the people.

  • What government are you talking about? Obviously not our US government!!! And certainly not the current administration!!!

    Get real!

  • Wendy

    So, if there really is transparency, we should not have to “dig to find the truth” or “look for new tools to find the truth”. It should be right in front of our faces.

  • PS, were mad as hell and not going to stand for this hide the money show anymore.

  • I really don’t see any inprovement in our goverment yet. Most of what they do is done behind closed doors. They all want special deals.
    The only real answer is vote them all out and replace them with one term each, no retirment pay same health care as everyone else.We also need to STOP all special intrest groups from handing out any money to anyone in goverment.Automatic twenty years in jail with all the poor people.

  • I find the health care I now possess to be the best avalibale. We presently have three entiletment programs and they want to create a forth? the programs need fixing not made larger.

  • Your organization sounds like just what I need.

  • I am a member of the Missouri Silver Haired Legislators. This group is 150 elder citizens elected to office by their peers. Their mandate is to educate our citizens and produce legislation and search for the needs of the elderly in our state. I write OP_ED papers for a local newspaper and host a news site for the members related to state and local issues. A new source of Info will be welcome.

  • Wesurroundthem

    It seems that the Sunlight Foundation is run and funded by a large array of left-leaning individuals and groups. Here is a quick list of “associations” to Sunlight that make me wonder just how fair and balanced the transparency could possibly be that they are working for:

    Originator and office of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, organized by Donald K. Ross, a Ralph Nader lawyer recruited by RFF in 1984.
    RFF gives grants and receives grants from other foundations.
    RFF gives grants to some of the worst mischief-makers in the anti-corporate crowd. Designs comprehensive campaigns and uses its influence to get other foundations to donate to RFF’s pet causes.

    Self Description: ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.
    Actual: Under control of billionaire mortgage lender and founding donor Herbert Sandler, a board of directors including the Pew Charitable Trusts, and a manager from the Rockefeller Foundation – as independent as a lapdog on a leash with allegiances sworn in advance to left-wing causes.

    A veritable cornucopia of left leaning funds, grants, and organizations.

    George Soros – need I say more?
    George Soros is founder and chairman of the Open Society Institute and the Soros foundations network. He is also the chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC.

    And much more I am sure – the rabbit hole is deep and long…….

  • Mavis Caplinger

    As I viewed the video, I thought I had been dreaming and hoped everything you were saying was true. Where was there transparency and accountability in the year 2009 from the White House. Why are they not putting out the HealthCare Bill on your site and pointing out all the deals that have been made to get the 60 votes. Tell me where is the TARP money and all the stimulus money. Could they not share that news with you so that the public could see for themselves where the money went. So many issues not shared by the elite elected officials. Everything is under the table………..transparency and accountability is no where to be found. Sorry but you got this one very wrong.

  • Thank you for the comment Ethan.

    In general, people need to remember that policy outcomes and transparency are not interchangeable. It’s unassailable that transparency did improve this year – that doesn’t mean we’re done and there is a HUGE amount left to improve all across the federal government and across the country.

    Understandably, when a lack of transparency produces policy outcomes people strongly disagree with, they pay more attention vs when they are getting policy outcomes they like. But regardless of our political ideologies we should keep our eye on the larger systemic transparency “ball”.

    Things are moving in the right direction – we need to protect the gains we’ve made and ask for even more in 2010.

  • Ethan Allen

    Ellen Miller Et Al, 8 Jan 10

    I just received the “It was a very good year” message today, and enjoyed the video recap and the notes on Sunlight’s program initiatives. Kudos to you and all of those who contribute their time and energy to Sunlight Foundation, and best wishes for a productive and successful 2010.
    Upon reading the comments posted to your message(18 at this writing), I noticed that all but the first one were posted today; and most of these were composed of simplistic partisan vitriol, hyperbolic rhetoric, and mindless name-calling. One must wonder, what it is that these individuals have against the dissemination of viable information about their own government? Are these people simply disgruntled citizens, honestly responding to what they consider an overly euphoric contention that “it was a very good year”? Or, are they indicative of the current profusion of orchestrated activity designed to target any successful efforts to provide transparent government accountability to its citizens? Considering the tone and tenor of these offerings, it may be that Sunlight has earned the distinction of having such a ‘target’ on its back.
    This, as I am sure you are all aware, is a growing problem of epidemic proportions in all of our communications media. These naysayers and their minions have no regard for reason and honest discourse, they are singularly motivated by ideologically dogmatic belief systems that are intolerant of substantive change, regardless of the outcome. We all ignore this omnipresent cancer on functional discourse at our own peril, it is designed to undermine and preempt the very operation of the first amendment that our founders envisioned. As they were willing to risk their very lives and personal liberty to secure all the rights of freedom for future generations, we must not quietly demure behind the cowardly fog of ‘political correctness’ in fear of confronting, or even censoring such intentional abuses. As our founders chose to do, we must employ the power of our convictions, and hold truth to be self-evident; lest it be sacrificed on the alter of belial.
    As Usual,
    Ethan Allen

  • There’s a lot of really interesting things being said here.

    Robert, above, said:

    “Yes, the internet is changing the way information is made avaliable. But it is not due to the MSM or government.”

    I think the internet is really the driving force here because it puts the power in the hands of citizens to find their own information rather than relying on it to be provdided by the media or by gov’t – exactly what the Sunlight Foundation and the transparent government movement promotes!

    I think that’s in part what Frances, above, is also talking about when she says: “however…many citizens do not bother or have the time to analyze..but most of all just listen to the blame tactics instead of digging to find the truth.”

    It’s citizens’ responsibility to use the new tools available to find the truth and engage with government in new ways.

  • Please keep up the great work everyone. Jake’s right — there is still a lot to do. Maybe more than ever, but who wants to fight an easy battle?

    As Aldous Huxley wrote:

    The Choice is always ours. Then, let me choose
    The longest art, the hard Promethean way
    Cherishingly to tend and feed and fan
    That inward fire, whose small precarious flame,
    Kindled or quenched, creates
    The noble or ignoble men we are,
    The worlds we live in and the very fates,
    Our bright or muddy star.

    We all just have to be careful not to let any administration take credit for a movement’s accomplishments if that administration flouts the movement’s goal.

  • Improved transparency by backside!! I disagree 100%. This was the most deceitful and nontransparent year I can remember or imagine. Slam dunk stimulus, 2000+ page ram-rod healthcare bills, closed door meetings, multi-million dollar bribes, no C-Span as promised, and a president that thinks marketing prowess outweighs the truth. I appreciate the effort but our current government and administration has trampled the Constitution to the point I no longer recognize our Nation.

  • Sorry to the folks who were awaiting their comment to be moderated. We went to lunch, but we’re back and they’re up now.

    I promise it’s to keep the spam and porn out of our blog :)

  • Gordon Johnson

    It truly warms my heart to read of gov.
    transparancy and the works you are doing.
    Example, I found and have downloaded H.R. 3590 (2,000 pages when it passed the
    Senate. I am working my way through the
    Bill and distributing my findings and thoughts to 20 Email friends (they each in turn send to 20 – now that’s gettin’ the word out).
    Inspiration comes from government watch groups such as SunLight Foundation.
    Thanks again and God Bless America.

  • frances maddox

    We can find out what is going on…by connecting the listening to fox news and googling …however…many citizens do not bother or have the time to analyze..but most of all just listen to the blame tactics instead of digging to find the truth…the mainstream media do not report the actual facts.

  • Lee Swann

    Nice video! However, I’m not sure whether you are advocates of the Republic of America or hoodwinked and supporting the Marxist/Socialist Obama. It seems to me that everybody in your video are not old enough to have the background to understand what the world was like when the Communists were our biggest problem. Now these young people are espousing the Socialist ideology of Obama. He has proven himself to be a liar in his declaration of transparency. He holds secret meetings with the Democrats behind closed doors. He kisses up to the Muslim extremists. He has also taken this country into debt that will take generations just to pay off the interest and yet he wants to spend more money we don’t have. Remember, the more money printed, the less worth it has consequently the hight prices go to make up for the less value of the dollar. WAKE UP AMERICA, OBAMA IS TAKING US INTO SOCIALISM.

  • J. L. Wetz

    You email started “It’s difficult to imagine a bigger year for government transparency than we had in 2009. In short, “it was a very good year.”

  • Robert

    You must be reading the toilet paper…no voter has even seen the entire Health Care Bill, and now they are holding closed door meetings to iron out the cravices between the House and Senate. Yes, the internet is changing the way information is made avaliable. But it is not due to the MSM or government. Get a life.

  • CM

    Sorry I was unable to understand your video due to lack of captioning.

  • CM

    Sorry I was unable to understand your video due to lack of captioning. However I agree in some way that it is great to witness more and more people willing to share their inputs, support and ideas to make Americans proud of our home country.


  • Gary

    That’s nice – my comments are awaiting moderation???? That’s really democratic!!! Go take a hike!

  • Gary

    Are you left-wing radicals out of your mind???????/ Of course you are – that is why you’re leftists!

    What a joke – this is the most UN-transparent administration in the history of the USA, and good old NEVER-STOP-LYING-OBAMANATION gets caught in lies of new promises every day – promises to make it more transpanrent, promises to have no pork or lobbyists, promises to work across the aisle, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc!!!!!

    It’s nausiating, and you will all be defeated in 2010!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Steven W Jones

    I can take a joke as well as most others but you folks are beyond humorous. Where is the sunlight on Barney Frank and the fannie / freddie debacle? Where is the sunlight on Chris Dodd and Countrywide or Charlie Rangle or Tim Geithner, or Ben Bernanke, or Hank Paulson, or Nancy Pelosi or the remaining corruption in government? America has been raped and robbed. What did you say about sunlight?

  • Arthur

    The purpose of this post is to document the Sunlight Foundation’s progress last year and discuss the organization’s plans for 2010. It is specious to use the current situation about health care bill television coverage to dismiss their achievements.

    The foundation has made incredible progress in 2009. Next year I’d love to see them increase awareness of their cause among less techie audiences.

  • First and foremost, it’s really great to see so many people that care about whether or not government is transparent. So thanks everyone for your comments.

    One thing we at Sunlight want to make very clear is that we don’t think government is transparent right now, and that’s why we need to work so hard at making it so.

    2009 was a year when a lot of good things happened that make the work of creating transparent government a little easier, and made it a little more open, but we are also clear that we have a LONG way to go.

    And that’s why we will continue to need your help in pushing government to become the transparent entity that it needs to be.

  • Sergio
  • Sandra J Arnold

    You are joking right?

    Candidate Obama 2008: Health care will be carried live on C-Span.

    Obama Administration: White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says he hasn’t heard about the C-SPAN letter requesting that final health care negotiations be televised — which, of course, harked back to President Obama’s [in]famous pronouncement that all talks should be televised on C-SPAN.

    “I haven’t seen that letter,” Gibbs said.

    That’s just one example among thousands in the past year!

  • William

    If things in government are as transparent as you seem to think they are- Why do our congressmen and senators seem to want to rush through the healthcare bills so rapidly and through the midnight hours?
    I am a proponent of them losing their goldplated insurance policies, that we so graciously have to fund, and going on the crap that they are trying to force down our throats, for at least three years before we have to accept it. Then we can see how well they really like it before we are subjected to it.

  • Ellen: The world is changing . . . fast. I stand in awe, as information technology (Internet, email records, forcibly imposes radical transparency on all publicly accountable organizations, be they scientific units or county governments in South Carolina. Analysis: Happy New Year. -Ben