What’s Going on in the Labs


This is the first in a monthly series of updates letting you know what we’re working on here in the Sunlight Labs offices.

If you’re like us, you’re busy creating and don’t take the necessary time to document and communicate what you’re up to. Here in the labs, we’ve been great about announcing when we’re finished with a product but we haven’t really kept the community informed on what we’re working on before we’re done with it. We’re going to improve this. Starting with this post, we’re going to give you a monthly rundown of what we’re working on here in our D.C. offices. With this and other proposed initiatives like improved documentation of our projects and making labs staff available for IRC “office hours,” we hope to do a better job of keeping you in the loop and making ourselves available for questions or comments. Please let us know what you think about these proposals. With that, here’s what we’re up to at Sunlight Labs:

Open State Project

James, Michael, Dan and our Google Summer of Code student, Gabriel, spent a lot of time this summer getting our first five states (Texas, Wisconsin, Marlyland, Louisiana and California) up to 100% completion. This week, we released the public API to this data. Be sure to check it out and let us know what you think about it. More information on the Open State project can be found here.

Influence Explorer

We recently soft-launched Influence Explorer, a tool that uses data from TransparencyData to identify the largest donors to federal and state campaigns. Ethan, Alison and Andrew (who just joined us this week) are putting the final polish on Influence Explorer before we officially launch, but we’d love for you to give it a test run.

National Data Catalog

David, Ryan, and Google Summer of Code student, Mike Dvorscak have been busy keeping the National Data Catalog fresh by keeping existing importers current and adding new importers when needed. Be on the lookout for new features at the end of the month, including the ability to report and discuss missing data sets, make a list of your favorites to share with others, and view Sunlight-curated categories of data sets.


The Transparency Data team (Ethan, Alison, and Andrew) are actively keeping the data fresh and loading campaign finance and lobbying data. This past June, data for contracts and grants was added to the database. As always, the database can be searched at transparencydata.com and accessed via the Transparency Data API.


Kevin and Kaitlin continue working with the Pew Charitable Trust on the SubsidyScope project. They’re currently finishing up work on the Energy Sector and starting to dive into Housing Sector data. The energy section of the SubsidyScope site should be released sometime next week.


I don’t want to ruin the surprise on this one, just know that Kaitlin has been working very hard on something that we expect to announce this week. It’s gonna be great, stay tuned!

Mobile Apps

Eric and our Google Summer of Code Student, Evelina, spent the summer making our Congress application for Android even better by giving you the ability to “favorite” bills and legislators and view roll call votes from the House and Senate. They’re constantly working to improve the app so expect to see more features, including background notifications on votes, laws, news and more.

The Real Time Congress iPhone application is constantly being tweaked with performance updates and minor feature additions. We’re currently working on a major update that should see the light of day later this year.

If you’re on another mobile platform, we haven’t forgotten about you. We’re developing Real Time Congress in PhoneGap, which will allow us to deploy to several mobile environments and Eric is busy working on a Windows Phone version of the Congress app for Android.


Eric and Ali are working closely with an exciting potential partner to expand the flexibility of our Politiwidgets and add geolocation capabilities to them.

HTML5 Application

Luigi took the lead on this and is working to have a new HTML5 application ready to go. Like many of our apps, this one revolves around Congress, but we’re taking a new approach to take advantage of a new platform. We’re not sure what we’re calling it yet, but it provides a real-time, user-friendly view of the workings of the House and Senate. Expect to see something in early October.


Ali and the design team are invaluable and they’re some of the hardest workers in the labs. It’s always safe to assume that where there’s a project, the design team is there, making it beautiful, keeping it standards compliant, and offering advice on interface and functionality. Recently, they’ve devoted their attention to Politiwidgets, ClearSpending, our new HTML5 app, some small things for the Android app, and various other odds and ends. Our design team will soon be expanding, something we’re all very excited about here.

National Priorities Project

We spent a good part of the year working with our friends at the National Priorities Project to make the vast amounts of federal budget data that they use available via API. NPP is currently working on the API documentation prior to public release and will have something for you in the coming weeks. Stay tuned on this one, it’s an impressive set of data. If you speak code, you can check out what we built on the NPP GitHub repo.

FEC Disclosures

In addition to getting Party Time and the Report Group site into top shape, Aaron’s been figuring out how to deal with the FEC’s plans for new disclosure types and schedules for this fall’s election. Keep an eye on the Reporting Group site for information about what he comes up with.


Tim’s been plugging away heroically at our long-planned move to Amazon’s cloud — most recently he’s been figuring out some thorny issues related to reconciling the load balancing system with AWS’s rationing of IPs. And this weekend he gets the pleasure of swapping our MX records at 4AM.

Foundation Support

When not working on TransparencyData, Jeremy is always on hand to make sure our code is efficient, pretty and standards-compliant. He’s now devoting his time to supporting the entire Sunlight Foundation and you’ll continue to see his great work in the Sunlight Foundation site, a new labs site, and the evolving Sunlight Live platform.

Drumbone and Docserver

Eric and I are continually improving the databases and APIs that fuel the mobile applications and the upcoming Chrome application. We’re beginning to port the existing Real Time Congress and Docserver APIs (that feed the iPhone app) into Drumbone to have a single source that feeds all of our congressional data apps.

Capitol Words

Capitol Words will be back soon, we promise! Jessy and Aaron are working hard to bring back the Capitol Words site and API with new features including our most requested feature, the ability to search phrases. If you’re not familiar with Capitol Words, check out this screencast and all of the fun things we’ve done with it at Sunlight to see what we had before. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve come up with, expect an announcement in the coming months.

See you again in early October!