This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Sunlight Foundation. It is exciting to reflect on how far we’ve come, the great people who helped us along the way and where we plan to go. With your help, we’ve grown from a small organization with big ideas to a connected community whose call for greater government openness and transparency is heard throughout the country.
We began with the nonpartisan goal of using the revolutionary power of the Internet and new technology to open government information. When we started, this modern interpretation of transparency was almost a completely foreign idea in Washington – a place where corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff dominated the headlines and sifting through reams of paper in order to get at the truth of what was going on was the status quo. While ordinary citizens were embracing new media tools and websites that gave them a readily available stream of information at their fingertips, government showed little interest in keeping up with the times.
Right out of the gate, we took on these age-old issues with a fresh arsenal of online tools and empowered citizens to engage in new forms of direct oversight. We believed then, as we still do, that none of us are as smart as all of us and that we have a stronger democracy when open information gives people the ammunition they need so they can speak truth to power. Sunlight developed all kinds of new tools and websites to achieve these goals and get the public involved in the political process.
We encouraged lawmakers to post their schedules online and launched the Open House Project to engage policy experts, citizens and lawmakers in a conversation on all the ways the House of Representatives could update how it shares information with the public. We initiated and funded dozens of projects to create online databases of government information. Everything from earmarks to congressional fundraiser invitations to foreign lobbying disclosures to House expenditures. We created mobile applications to put Congress into the hands of the people and fostered a community of thousands of ‘civic hackers’ to build better tools. We updated legislative rules and collaboratively wrote new policy to open government to the Internet age. We’ve trained thousands of journalists and citizens in using data and in using the web to watchdog Washington. We modeled government websites to show what is possible and followed the money, lobbying and the influence industry with ongoing reporting projects.
Through it all we are most inspired and proud of the people who take action and participate in the process to improve our democracy. Thank you to the countless people and organizations who have worked with us, used our tools, dug deep into our websites through our first five years. The Sunlight Foundation will continue to work with you explore how to enhance our democracy and citizen engagement with our public officials using online tools. Sure, there’s a lot more to be done. As a wise person once said, if this was easy, it would have been done already. And we promise you – the best is yet to come!