Labs Update: February 2012


Previously in Sunlight Labs: Influence Explorer redesigned, James moved to Boston, and Capitol Words was released. So then why is Luigi cleaning out his desk? Where did Transparency Data go? Why is Ethan calling in to the morning check-in meeting? Find out on this episode of Labs Update!


Let’s start off with some terrible news; Luigi Montanez has up and left the Labs. He’ll be working for a new startup in the world of politics so I’m sure you will see much more of his amazing work in the near future. The local frozen yogurt and frozen custard shops will feel the loss of his business.

We also recently said goodbye to designer Chris Rogers. Did you like our Indecent Disclosure poster or the Transparency Camp 2011 branding? That’s just two examples of her fine work.

…lead to open positions!

Sunlight Foundation is hiring!

If you haven’t noticed, this is a really great place to work. Talented people, a fun environment, and lots of nearby delicious food. We also do really important work.

We’re even offering a referral bonus: if we hire your suggestion, I’ll give you a sincere hug.

Sunlight Seattle and Influence Explorer

Goodbye, Transparency Data! As part of an effort to streamline our branding, has been transformed into If you rely on the Transparency Data API, do not fret; it is the exact same API at a new URL and with much nicer documentation. All calls to Transparency Data URLs are being forwarded to the new domain so don’t freak out thinking that all of your projects have broken.

In data-related news, Alison has recently refreshed state campaign finance data with the latest dump from Ethan has wrapped up development on a project I hinted to at the end of last year where we will be pulling in timelier, but messier, data directly from the FEC. Andrew has been cleaning up much of IE’s JavaScript infrastructure and working on a new site highlighting influence on the regulatory process.

Influence Explorer team lead Ethan has moved to Seattle, but will still be working remotely for Sunlight. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Seattle is quite limited so I’ve no witty jabs to include here. If you have any, please contact me.

Sunlight Boston and the Open States Project

It’s like a spin-off of your favorite sitcom, but just as good as the original. Sunlight Boston is fully staffed with new hires Paul Tagliamonte and Thom Neale. Rounding out the team is a new data quality intern, Nina Psoncak. They’re based out of a hip co-working space so if you find yourself in the area, stop by, compliment their code, and tell them how much cooler they are than Sunlight DC.

And they are getting work done too! Scrapers have been fixed and/or updated for California, Delaware, Colorado, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. billy, the underlying scraping system, now allows for the merging of legislators. The Open States API has been updated with several feature requests to better support mobile clients.

Sunlight Live

We took the State of the Union address as an opportunity to try out our new Sunlight Live platform, Datajam. Dan and Luigi (before his defection) did a really amazing job on the project. The event administration tools and chat module are super slick.

Upwardly Mobile

Upwardly Mobile cow

I’ve talked about it for months, but seriously, we are wrapping up Upwardly Mobile! The finishing touches are being added (animated cow, need I say more?), communications and organizing are planning the launch, and I’m wrestling with final tweaks to static maps generated with matplotlib.

Work begins on the third Knight app soon! We’ll have an exciting announcement about a new partner that will be working on it with us.


As the number of APIs we offer increases, so do the number of client libraries needed to work with each service. The madness must stop! Paul has started work on python-sunlight, a grand unified Python wrapper for (eventually) all of Sunlight’s APIs. We are launching with support for the Capitol Words, Congress and Open States APIs. An experimental version of the Influence Explorer API is included and work on the Real Time Congress API will begin soon. Just pip install sunlight to get started. Python and Sunlight are BFF.


As the Subsidyscope project winds down, Kaitlin and Drew have updated the data with the latest release from and prepared six more sectors for impending launch. They’ve also been working with Superfastmatch for some upcoming projects.

Team Journalism

The Sunlight Reporting group has historically been responsible for all journalistic output, but in recent months Labs has been taking an increasing role in our reporting. We’ve got access to these vast data sets, so why not do something worthwhile with them, right?

Joining the team is new hire Jacob Fenton who will be working as our embed in the Reporting Group. Since starting at Sunlight he’s been knee deep in the swampy morass commonly known as raw FEC campaign finance reports. Ryan and Lee have been covering super PACs and elite donors for the 2012 presidential campaign.

Team Sysadmin

With our ever expanding troop of remote workers, Tim was tasked with finding a solution to replace our existing (and terrible) conference call system. Using ambient mics mounted in the ceiling, a mixer, a web cam, and Google Hangouts, Tim was able to rig up a solution that works surprisingly well!

our ceiling robot microphone

When the robot’s nose glows green, you know you are being broadcast.

Team Tom

Tom has been (with much help from James and Daniel) setting the groundwork for a new scraper project (GASP!, literally) that we’ll be asking you all to lend a hand with (stay tuned for more on that). Otherwise it’s been the usual glamorous mix of contracts, grant reports, negotiating metrics and dealing with turnover. But he did buy a BeagleBone, which is kind of exciting (less so for Tim, who’s been receiving a lot of tedious questions about rc.d and wpa_supplicant as a result).


  • Ever wondered if there are any crazy late night Tweets from members of Congress that get deleted the next morning? Eric is working on a project that will help uncover long lost updates from Congress.
  • Shouldn’t come as a surprise, but there’s been another awesome update to Congress for Android consisting of design updates and search features.
  • Daniel released Lapidus, a metrics tracking dashboard we will be using internally to track our goals.
  • February should see the release of the 180° project which will turn the cameras on the audience at Congressional committee hearings.
  • Ali has been slowly rolling out our new logo as the rebranding effort continues. The next few months should see updated identity on all of our properties including a completely new!

    new Sunlight Foundation logo

  • An awesome new release of the Congressional Roku app is coming soon.

  • February’s afternoon snack of the month is the PBJ smoothie at Yola. Tell them Sunlight sent you and they’ll look at you weird because they don’t know who we are!
  • The sandwich gods are smiling upon Sunlight.