Building a National Campaign for Transparency


What an exciting (and long and intense) few weeks it’s been.

When we got back into the office here at Sunlight on January 4th, we knew 2010 was the year we needed to build a national campaign of people calling for an open, transparent government everywhere across the country. We’ve known for months in fact, but honestly, we had no idea how people would respond when we put the word out.

Now, only three weeks later, a few very big events have unfolded, and each new event has created new opportunities – as well as more need for our collective action than ever before. In other words, it’s abundantly clear that we’re on the right track.

It’s time to start putting the pieces together, and we’ve updated our initial sign up page with a statement of need for a national campaign and our next 4 steps to launch it in March.

As for big events, here’s what’s been keeping us up at night thinking about why we need a campaign and why now is the right time:

1) The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last week means there is a need for more disclosure of money in our political system than ever before. In addition to lifting limits on political contributions, the Court also called for online disclosure of those contributions quite clearly, and now we need to build the technical systems and get the laws passed which make online, real-time disclosure a reality. ASAP.

2) The President of the United States spoke about transparency – even about things as wonky as a “single, online Web site for earmarks” – in his State of the Union address (the most visible time the President can endorse anything), and we need to hold him, and Congress, to it.

3) In December, the Open Government Directive laid forth the boldest plan we’ve ever seen from government on how to become more open with its data and information. Again, this is great to read and hear, but we need to hold those words and plans accountable for being translated into action.

Our campaign will help to answer the call these opportunities put forward, as well as determine how they apply locally.

Making things better; on top of the real, immediate need for a campaign, the national climate for a campaign is also ripe.

The media is putting a ton of attention on never before covered topics like “How transparent are conference committees?” and even the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart is covering how to improve stimulus data with Vice President Biden. Seriously. The Vice President of the United States is being taken to task on national TV about data quality. This is great news.

If the media really cares about transparency in politics, then our message is starting to get through, and we can amplify it even more.

Most importantly, we’ve actually talked to dozens of you, and several hundred more have already signed up to say that you’d want to be part of a national campaign for transparency – in ways that range from “I’d pass information to my friends” to “I would make phone calls and demand more from my representatives” to “I would host an event in my city and contribute money.”

You, as leaders of this campaign, represent every point along the political spectrum from “very conservative” to “very liberal” to “none of the above;” you come from over 30 states, and you are clearly passionate about creating an open government. That means we have a real chance to build a successful movement.

We have financial resources to start, we have the tools and expertise, and we are building leadership. As I said above, now it’s time to start putting the pieces together.

On this initial page, there’s a wiki and a Google Group to collect and share the resources we all have – and most importantly, get to know each other.

So let’s start kicking the tires. We’ll communicate primarily through the Google Group, but I will also send a weekly update via that you can typically expect on Wednesday or Thursday.  You can keep up with the campaign on Twitter as well at

This is going to be fun.