Sunlight honored to receive Knight Prototype Funds for foreign influence project


Today, Sunlight is happy to share that we have been chosen as one of 22 recipients of the Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund. The 22 winners represent “a range of ideas from government, the media, nonprofits, universities, libraries and more,” serving to support early-stage media and information projects. This generous support will aid Sunlight in developing a new tool that illuminates the often murky connections between foreign clients and their U.S. agents.

International influence over U.S. politics and policies has been documented in the news over and over and over again. There is little data available to spot these connections, and what is out there — mostly through the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) — is in an almost unusable format. We’ve already tried to make this rich treasure trove of information more accessible with our Foreign Influence Explorer (which involved painstakingly hand-entering thousands of rows of data), but we believe a new approach can bring even greater value to this dataset.

The Knight Prototype Fund will allow us to pursue a more effective foreign influence tracker: The project will highlight newly available metadata associated with these FARA documents, linking names of foreign clients and their U.S. agents, enticing reporters to read the original forms by surfacing interesting connections, and aiding their ability to write about countries influencing US policies related to a variety of issues.

While the Knight Prototype Fund will provide $35,000 toward the development of this tool, Prototype Fund projects also undergo an invaluable six-month experimentation and iteration process — including human-centered design training, team feedback meetings and more — to help bring the projects from concept to a fleshed out demo.

We couldn’t be more excited for this honor, and can’t wait to get to work on our new foreign influence tracker. Stay tuned!