Labs Update: May 2012


Like a phoenix rising from its ashes on a monthly basis, it’s Labs Update time!

TransparencyCamp 2012

It may be cliché to say, but TransparencyCamp 2012 was the best TCamp ever! GROUP HUG! We doubled attendance from last year with over 400 attendees from 26 US states and 27 countries. Anything I write here won’t do the awesomeness of the event any justice so just watch the video:

TransparencyCamp wouldn’t have been possible without the effort and expertise of the entire Sunlight Foundation staff, but I want to highlight the work of our newest designer, Amy Cesal. Event branding was her first task here in the Labs and I think it’s pretty clear that she knocked it out of the park. Great work, Amy!

Open State Project

Sunlight Boston got the chance to spend a week with us at the DC headquarters during TransparencyCamp. It was great having them in office, even if Paul is a tab zealot.

Paul and James have done a lot of work on the API side of the project, implementing full-text search and enhanced event support as it relates to committees and bills. Thom has been focused on getting the public site closer to launch, working on the new design with Ali and refining news/blog aggregation.

James also released a new version of scrapelib. The update features FTP and retry support, optionally obeying robots.txt and a pluggable caching layer. scrapelib is now based on requests, Kenneth Reitz’s ubiquitous HTTP library.

Influence Explorer

It’s non-stop data with the Influence Explorer team. Ethan worked to add Super PAC and independent expenditure sections on profiles. Alison processed updates to Contractor Misconduct data from POGO. Andrew did more work on the new regulatory filings section, which is planned to launch sometime in July.


Eric recently launched an open beta of Scout, an alert system for the things you care about in state and national government. It covers Congress, regulations across the whole executive branch and legislation in all 50 states.

You can read more details about the project in Eric’s launch blog post, but here is a quick rundown:

  • notifications via email, SMS, RSS and JSON
  • searching for keywords and phrases in bills, speeches and regulations
  • detailed activity on specific bills

Scout is yet another new Sunlight project that is built almost exclusively on our public API services including Open States, Capitol Words and Real Time Congress.

Team Journalism

Ryan investigated the exciting and fast-paced world of tariff suspensions for a piece she wrote on the miscellaneous tariff bill process.

Lee has been running a grade level analysis of congressional speeches, which have been declining over the last seven years. The piece, which I hope scores higher than congressional speeches, should be published within the next week or two.

Jacob crunched third quarter independent expenditure numbers after monthly and quarterly filers posted results this month, is beginning work on a Party Time redesign to take place this summer and threw together a real-time FEC filing system monitor.

Open Source

Now that we are up to 186 open source projects on GitHub, I figure it’s about time we feature the best of what we’ve got. Newly released projects include:

  • citation is a JavaScript library for extracting US Code citations from blocks of text. Eric has also provided citation-api, a small node.js wrapper to provide citation as a service.
  • bill-nicknames is a project to crowdsource popular names for bills. The goal is to map popular-but-unofficial names like ‘Obamacare’ to the official bills to which they refer.
  • oyster is a service for tracking regularly-accessed pages. It will cache pages that are frequently scraped, downloading new versions when page content changes.


  • Our pals at Cubox are working to get DataJam ready for public use
  • Daniel has been working on tools for the manual collection of political ad buy files at TV stations around the country.
  • Drew and Kaitlin have been working on SuperFastMatch and related tools, including a browser extension.
  • Ali and team have been designing for a bunch of projects including the new Open States public site, Sunlight Academy, the Sunlight Foundation redesign, Scout and Party Time.
  • Dan crunched numbers for a bunch of stories based on Capitol Words and has been looking into new technologies and data sets to be included in the project.
  • Tom has been helping to manage the third Knight app’s progress, working on some new project proposals and desperately clawing his way out of a huge pile of email that accumulated during tcamp.
  • A Sunlight Olympics hack, but not the one mentioned in the post, has grown into a full project! We’ll have more details next month and an announcement at Personal Democracy Forum in June.
  • May’s album of the month is Threads by Now Now. I’m sure some of my coworkers may disagree, but they have no say in this post… so there!