Statement from Sunlight Foundation’s board chairman


The board of directors of the Sunlight Foundation has reached some important conclusions about our future. We want to share them with our friends, funders, employees, partners, and everyone who has been a part of our work over the last decade.

In July, we officially launched a search for a new executive director. As we noted in the position description, we sought “a leader who will closely collaborate with board, staff and funders to shape a coherent, forward-thinking strategy to maximize the Foundation’s impact.” Finding a candidate with a compelling strategic vision and a promising capacity to execute it was our lodestar.

We searched far and wide. Our search consultant, m/Oppenheim, reached out to a list of well over 100, a number of whom became candidates while others were sources into other potential candidates. They came from the fields of journalism, public policy, government, and technology. We ultimately received and considered approximately two dozen applications. Of those, the Search Committee ultimately chose to interview five candidates. Last week we met as a board to interview two final candidates and consider their visions for the organization.

As I wrote earlier this year, Sunlight has successfully catalyzed a movement. While we are enormously proud of what Sunlight has accomplished over the past decade, and has come to stand for, we are also aware of the changes time has wrought.

We are aware that the robust maturation of technology over the past decade has — happily but substantially — reduced the urgency of Sunlight’s early role as a leading transparency innovator. In addition, the board had to recognize that Sunlight’s initiating objective— to build support for better legislation against and regulation of the power of money in politics— has been significantly limited by the US Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision.

Those factors required a rethinking of what, if anything, can most effectively be done with the resources available to continue the technology/transparency cause and Sunlight’s role in it. We’ve done that work, and here is what we have determined.

The board has not found a candidate for executive director who persuaded us of both a compelling new strategic vision and of their capacity to lead Sunlight to its achievement. Accordingly, we have determined to explore alliances with other organizations similarly motivated, perhaps merging with one of them, in an arrangement that advances and preserves Sunlight’s mission and identity with increased efficiency and effectiveness.

During this time period, we will deliver on all existing obligations to funders and partners, making certain that we continue the great work we’re doing in the What Work Cities initiative, for instance. We are making necessary adjustments to staff in accordance with this direction.

We will discontinue our tool building and database maintenance activities, and encourage others to continue our most promising projects. The decision to retire OpenCongress is an example.

In reaching these conclusions, the board recognizes and honors what the Sunlight Foundation has achieved. Thanks to the efforts of hundreds, we have compiled a record of pioneering innovation in policy, governance, and technology. We have built a deep well of institutional knowledge; a remarkable portfolio of initiatives, programs, products, experiments, reporting, and infrastructures; and an unmatched network of staff and alumni who are among the most accomplished experts, activists, advocates and technologists in their fields. These are important and valuable elements of a broader movement to revitalize our democratic institutions. We aim to find the right alliance or arrangement that will carry them forward.

I helped start this organization hoping it would play an active role as a monitor and constructive critic of government policies and practices affecting transparency. As we explore potential alliances with other organizations over the next few weeks, I look forward to continuing that work.