What’s Going on in the Labs


Wow. So November was eventful…

November Highlights

PAC Generator

Nicko in communications came up with the idea, Jeremy ran with it and we have a hit. We released our PAC Name Generator last week and the response was great. I’m pretty sure that I beat the game when my PAC name came up as “Scheming Gentlemen for What You Believe In PAC.” Try to beat it. You can’t.

Checking Influence

Last week we also launched the Checking Influence bookmarklet, a tool that allows you to see how companies that you do business with are influencing politics through lobbying and campaign contributions. Give it a shot. It might surprise you. For more info on Checking Influence, see our introductory blog post.

New states added to Open State Project API

James announced that data for Florida, Virginia, and New Jersey were added to the Open States API.


A new version of the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, a joint project from Sunlight and ProPublica, was launched with updated data.

Other Highlights

The ScraperWiki team dropped by Sunlight’s offices.

Eric previewed the Real Time Congress API.

Tom argues that better tools won’t make up for bad document workflows.

Eric updated us on the roadmap for the Congress App for Android.

Tom used ice cream to find the shortcomings of recovery.gov

David, Eric and Luigi hosted an Open Government Hackathon at RubyConf and David presented on Scraping the Web.

We created an experimental mobile app to help you understand policy issues.

Have we mentioned that if you submit a patch, you could win a Kindle?

Project Updates

Open States

As mentioned above, James, Michael and Patrick (our new Open States intern) had a big month in November, releasing three new states to the Open States API. They also spent some time improving data quality for the 13 states that are currently live and we’re now releasing monthly data dumps for these states. Minnesota and Mississippi are next and we expect to have them ready to go by the end of the year.


Kevin and Kaitlin have been working hard and expect the first version for the Tax Expenditure database to go live this month. We’re looking at a January release of the housing sector.

Holiday Surprise

We give you something every year, don’t we? This year will be no different. Jeremy, Andrew and the design team are having fun with this one.

Design Team

Ali, Caitlin and Chris have been working on our special holiday surprise, a refresh of the Sunlight Foundation site, and Stream Congress. They were also heavily involved in the Checking Influence project, merchandise and promotional materials, the Roku apps and the Briefing Book app.

Better Draw a District

We promised it last month and it’s finally here! We just launched Better Draw a District, a fun take on redistricting. Created by Alison, David, Greg, Kevin and me, it started out as an experiment in our “Labs Olympics” sprint a few months ago and David, Kevin and Andrew have gone the extra mile to give it polish and get it pushed out the door.

Sunlight Site

Jeremy, Ali, and Caitlin are finishing the refresh of the Sunlight Foundation site.

Transparency Data

Ethan, Alison and Andrew released Checking Influence in November and are working to get earmark data on Influence Explorer for a December launch.

Real Time Congress API

The Real Time Congress API continues to grow as Eric adds new features. Kaitlin chipped in in a big way this month, helping Eric add to the API the services need to run the TV apps we’re working on.


In Reporting, Aaron’s been working on creating a database of lobbyist registrations, which we plan to launch soon. It will allow users to keep track of which issues are likely to get the most attention from lobbyists and their clients.

TV Apps

At last week’s Labs Lunch, Kaitlin and Caitlin had a chance to demo the two Roku apps they’ve been working on. The apps feature video from the White House and the House of Representatives and will allow Roku users to watch live and archived video from the White House and archived video from the House. We’re working with the team that built HouseLive.gov to see if live House video will be possible. Either way, expect to see these apps in the Roku market soon.

Mobile Applications

Eric released a minor update to the Congress app for Android that gives upgrading users the option of sending a small donation our way if they’ve found the app useful. Several of you have already donated and we’re very thankful for that. The release date for version 2 of the Real Time Congress iPhone application was pushed back a bit, but we should have it for you in January. Finally, a new mobile app was added to our mobile portfolio. Currently an experiment, we’re calling it ‘Briefing Book’ and we hope it will serve as a model in how to deliver the information needed to understand the process surrounding a political issue. We’ll continue to support and update all of these apps.

Stream Congress

Luigi put a lot of work into getting Stream Congress ready for the Chrome Web Store. More info about Stream Congress can be found here.

Staff Directory

Eric put the finishing touches on a House Staff directory that we’re launching very soon.

National Data Catalog

David: I have been working on version 2 of the National Data Catalog and will continue to do so for December. We’ve been in contact with David Herzog of the Missouri School of Journalism and expect to collaborate with his software developer who will build a data catalog called Open Missouri, using the National Data Catalog as a platform.

Capitol Words

Aaron and I continue to work on Capitol Words and the API should be public by the end of the month.


timball continues with the big migration and now has 16 of our roughly 50 properties moved to Amazon servers. As always, he’s keeping the existing servers running smoothly.


We can’t forget our leader, Tom. Tom’s been working on grant proposals and doing what he can to make sure we’re going to hit the ground running in 2011.

Upcoming Events

No upcoming events for us this month. We’re having a fundraiser tomorrow! then we’re looking forward to wrapping up the year, heading home for the holidays, and coming back with new toys to inspire us for the coming year.

Everybody get all of that? We’re really going to enjoy the holiday break.