Sunlight Foundation Policy Documents

Sunlight’s policy team prepares testimony, briefings, and presentations that elucidate our policy proposals.

  • Federal

    Our federal level advocacy is focused on a number of important issues ranging from open data, to campaign finance disclosure and lobbying reform. We push for changes in Congress and the executive branch by proposing policy changes, conducting research and oversight activities, providing comments, meeting with staff and testifying at hearings. For more information on this agenda, see the Federal Policy page.

  • International

    At the global level, our goal is to engage open government activists and provide them resources to increase government transparency and accountability in their countries. We do so by expanding consensus on international norms for transparency; strengthening national-level non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as advocates for local change; and serving as a hub in the network of international transparency practitioners. For more information on this agenda, see our International Policy page.

  • State and Local

    The state and local team actively monitors and supports existing open data and accountability initiatives, researches case studies, supports best practices and proposes new policies. We’re especially interested in seeing how open data can contribute to a better understanding of the money in politics, improved knowledge of government services and transactions, and improved access to government processes and decision-makers for all citizens. For more information on this agenda, see our State and Local Policy page.

  • Public Testimony Submitted To The Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee

    Policy Counsel Daniel Schuman submitted comments to the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch on budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2014.

  • Public Testimony Submitted to the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee

    Policy Counsel Daniel Schuman submitted comments to the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch on budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2014.

    He outlined a number of areas for the committee to consider, urging them to improve public access to legislative data, fully fund the Office of Congressional Ethics, publish Congressional Research Service reports publicly online, publish House Expenditure Reports online in a data-friendly format, publish House support office and support agency reports online, publish the Constitution Annotated online, restore funding for committee and personal office staff and legislative support agencies, and more.

  • Daniel Schuman Testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

    On March 13, 2013 Daniel Schuman testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He outlined the state of transparency in the Federal government and legislature and identified specific actions that could lead to greater openness.

    He urged Congress to pass several important pieces of legislation including the DATA Act, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act, and amendments to the Federal Advisory Committee Act. He also suggested that the committee should explore legislation relating to FOIA, the Open Government Directive, access to Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinions, and more.

  • Getting Past Groundhog Day: Auditing the Government’s Open Data Policy

    A talk delivered at an American Council for Technology conference on February 14, 2013, on the importance of creating a government-wide policy to audit and index the information it holds.

    When it comes to Open Data Policies, today is Groundhog Day. We’ve come a long way since the Paperwork Reduction Act, first passed in 1980, which called on each agency to ensure that the public has timely and equitable access to the agency’s public information; and things have changed since OMB’s Circular A-130, first issued in 1985, which calls for the protection of the public’s right of access to government information. We now have websites, bulk downloads, APIs, and a shiny new Digital Government Strategy. But when it comes to how agencies share access to the information they hold, we’re barely halfway through the movie.

  • Senate Rules Changes: Sunlight’s Proposals for the 113th Congress

    The United States Senate is a creature of its rules. Through its standing rules, laws and resolutions, precedents, and the consent of its members, the upper chamber carefully controls how legislation can be promulgated and debate can take place.

    Unlike the House of Representatives, which must vote on its rules every Congress, the Senate rarely reconsiders its standing rules in their entirety. An opportunity may arise, however, with the current debate over changing how the filibuster works. Here are Sunlight’s major recommendations for updating the Senate’s rules.

  • Letter to Leadership on Fiscal Cliff Negotiation Transparency

    The Sunlight Foundation, along with the Institute for Policy Innovation,, Public Citizen and U.S. Public Interest Research Groups sent a letter to President Obama, Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Representative Boehner and Representative Pelosi urging them to ensure that a minimal standard of transparency apply to the fiscal cliff negotiations.

  • House Rules Changes: Sunlight’s Proposals for the 113th Congress

    Congress runs on rules. With the upcoming changeover from the 112th to the 113th Congress, the House of Representatives will adopt new regulations that innervate every aspect of legislative life. The last time it did this, in 2010, the House set the stage for greater openness and transparency in the lower chamber. At that time, Sunlight issued a series of recommendations, some of which were adopted. The House of Representatives made significant progress toward ensuring the people’s house belongs to the people, from the new transparency portal to expanded video coverage of House proceedings to retaining the Office of Congressional Ethics.

    In advance of the 113th Congress, we’re issuing an updated set of transparency recommendations, each of which would mark a significant step towards increased transparency.

  • Keeping Congress Competent: The Senate’s Brain Drain

    One of the foundations of democracy is a legislature that functions well. The ability to assess whether a legislature is functioning properly depends on the public’s ability to see what it is doing. Observing what the U.S. Senate is doing, unfortunately, is a difficult task, and one that is unnecessarily hard. Have special interests become increasingly powerful in the Senate because the upper chamber has diminished its capacity to legislate? To evaluate this question, we gathered data about congressional staff numbers, pay, and retention from a number of difficult-to-access (and often non-public) sources.

    While the U.S. Senate is often seen as the wiser and more seasoned counterpart to the House, we believe it is suffering from the same affliction that has robbed the lower chamber of some of its ability to engage in reasoned decision making, placing it at the mercy of special interests. Over the past thirty years, the Senate weakened its institutional knowledge base and diminished its capacity to understand current events through a dramatic reduction of one of its most valuable resources: experienced staff.

  • Improving Congressional Oversight

    At a fundamental level, congressional oversight is an expression of the American people’s collaborative effort to govern themselves. Expressions of popular sovereignty are usually evaluated through the lens of legislation, i.e. where Congress directs the government (the executive branch) to take action. However, it is equally important to analyze whether the undertaken governmental actions are what Congress intended and the American people want.

    There are many metrics to evaluate executive branch activities, including whether the government is accurately carrying out its instructions, whether it’s doing so in a way that is faithful to what Congress intended, whether it is acting expeditiously, and whether the outcomes are achieving the desired ends. At Sunlight, we have a particular interest in government transparency, and this blogpost outlines some methods Congress can employ to make the executive branch more transparent, as well as how the fruits of Congressional oversight efforts can be made more readily available to the American people.


    The following is a report on improving public access to legislative information. It is the result of a collaborative effort that was prompted by the House Leadership’s recent statement endorsing bulk access and the questions raised in a committee report accompanying the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill.

    The co-authors of the report are Daniel Schuman (Sunlight Foundation), Tom Bruce (Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute), Josh Tauberer (, Eric Mill (Sunlight Foundation), and John Wonderlich (Sunlight Foundation).

    The report is the latest in the ongoing, multi-year effort to improve how Congress releases legislative information to the public. It provides a roadmap to implementing bulk access to legislative information.

  • 39% Of Office Of Legal Counsel Opinions Kept From The Public

    The Department of Justice is withholding from online publication 39% (or 201) of its 509 Office of Legal Counsel opinions promulgated between 1998 and 2012, according to a Sunlight Foundation analysis. This apparently conflicts with agency guidance on releasing opinions to the public as well as best practices recommended by former Justice Department officials.

  • Letter To The Department Of Labor On Rulemaking Transparency

    17 organizations joined together to ask the Department of Labor to repost documents related to a proposed regulations regarding child labor in agriculture. When the proposed rules were withdrawn, the Department of Labor removed related documents from their website. The letter argues that it is necessary to have continued access to these documents to provide context for decisions related to the withdrawal of the rule.

  • Amicus Brief On Dark Money Case Before The Supreme Court

    The Campaign Legal Center filed this amicus brief on behalf of 14 nonprofit organizations (including the Sunlight Foundation) before the U.S. Supreme Court this past Friday. It concerns a challenge to part of the Citizens United decision that allows independent entities to raise and spend unlimited amounts of dark money to influence elections. The high court must decide whether to hear argument in a case involving the potential invalidation of a Montana law that limits corporate political expenditures, known as American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock.

  • 30 Orgs Call For Bulk Access To THOMAS

    Thirty organizations from across the political spectrum joined together to ask Congress to improve public access to legislative information. Our joint letters to congressional appropriators and rulemakers urges Congress to direct that the THOMAS legislative database be published online and to establish an advisory committee on further improvements.

  • Ellen Miller FINRA Comments

    Re: FINRA Requests Comment on Ways to Facilitate and Increase Investor Use of BrokerCheck Information

    We are commenting on FINRA’s February 2012 proposal on “Ways to Facilitate and Increase Investor Use of BrokerCheck Information.” As advocates for open data, we are disturbed that the proposal lacks any mention of making the data underlying FINRA’s BrokerCheck website search available for download in electronic, machine readable format.

  • Sunlight Testimony On Bulk Access To THOMAS Before House

    The Sunlight Foundation submitted testimony regarding improving bulk access to THOMAS legislative information to the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch for a hearing scheduled on February 6, 2012.

  • Sunlight Testimony On Bulk Access To THOMAS Before Senate Approps

    The Sunlight Foundation submitted testimony regarding improving bulk access to THOMAS legislative information to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch for a hearing scheduled on March 1, 2012.

  • Benchmarks For Measuring Success For Legislative Data Transparency

    These remarks were delivered by Sunlight’s Policy Counsel, Daniel Schuman, at the House Legislative Data and Transparency Conference on February 2, 2012.

    Thank you to Matt Lira and Steve Dwyer for the introduction, and to the House of Representatives for holding such an important and timely conference. This kind of event has been a long time in coming.

    I must acknowledge the excellent panels that have been happening all day. And I would be remiss if I didn’t commend the Committee on House Administration for adopting “standards for the electronic posting of house and committee documents and data,” which are already transforming the House in a very positive way.

    Because I’m limited to 10 minutes, let me briefly commend three documents to all of you which lay out a transparency vision in greater breath and detail than is possible here. They are the Open House Project Report, the Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Data, and the report from the Congressional Facebook Hackathon.

    I’ve been asked to speak about benchmarks for measuring success in making legislative data available online. I feel like a kid in a candy store, but I will try to restrain myself. When I speak about the House, please construe my remarks as applying to the Senate and the legislative support agencies as well.

  • Budget And Spending Transparency

    Access to government spending information is a fundamental pillar of an accountable government. It provides a basis for citizen participation, promotes government integrity, and encourages greater efficiency.

    Current reporting systems do not cover all aspects of government budgeting and spending. In short, people in the government cannot track where every penny goes from the time when money is appropriated to when it is spent. And to the extent this information is tracked and reported to the public, those reports are often difficult to obtain, lack sufficient depth and granularity, and are made available in difficult to use formats.

    The following are Sunlight Foundation policy proposals to improve transparency for federal government budget and spending information.

  • Coalition Letter On The SuperCommittee

    A coalition of organizations wrote to the House and Senate Leadership on August 8, 2011, to urge the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to operate openly to the greatest extent possible in order to earn the confidence of the American people.

  • Sunlight Letter To Leadership On Super Committee Transparency

    On August 3, 2011, the Sunlight Foundation sent a letter to the House and Senate Leadership that urged that the new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction operate in a transparent and accountable manner.

  • John Wonderlich Testimony Before The House Energy And Commerce Committee Regarding White House Visitor Logs

    Policy Director John Wonderlich testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding the white house visitor logs as a tool for transparency. He begins with, “This disclosure loophole should be fixed, but the visitor logs only capture visitors to the White House complex. Visitor log records will probably never encompass off-site meetings, phone calls, or emails. The most serious limitation of the visitor logs is that they only cover visitors. For comprehensive disclosure of who is influencing the White House, the visitor logs are not the best tool for the job, even if they are the primary tool at our disposal.”

  • Testimony Of Ellen Miller Before The House Oversight And Government Reform Committee Regarding Transparency Through Technology

    Executive Director Ellen Miller testifies before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and Procurement Reform. She explains the importance of acknowledging the inherent value of government transparency, but that this acknowledgement is not in itself sufficient. “Transparency initiatives must now yield information that is accurate, complete and useful.” She walks through the flawed data underneath and the challenge of imposing useful unique ids.

  • Testimony Of Ellen Miller Before The House Oversight And Government Reform Committee Regarding Federal Spending

    Executive Director Ellen Miller testifies before the full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding transparency and accountability in federal spending. After identifying Sunlight’s established role as a proponent of improved federal spending transparency, she begins, “Federal spending is a vital part of a transparent and accountable government. We are just beginning to see the benefits of online transparency as it applies to government spending. Only recently have the web tools been built and datasets released online that have begun to publicly illuminate government spending. For example, we developed a website,, that displays federal contracts right alongside political contributions, lobbying activities, and contractor misconduct reports. “

  • Daniel Schuman Testimony Before The House Committee On Appropriations Regarding CRS And THOMAS

    Policy Counsel Daniel Schuman testifies before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Legislative Branch regarding transparency, funding for CRS, and bulk access to THOMAS legislative data. He explains that CRS products help frame public debate on important issues and have been cited numerous times in major newspapers over the course of the last two years. The frequency of CRS citations underscores the importance of providing public access to these documents. Legislative language ties CRS’ hands, prohibiting the agency from spending any funding on publishing products to a wider audience, and should be changed. Public access to bulk THOMAS data is also an important component of improving government transparency, as research has shown that many adults download or read legislation. Advanced search capabilities would facilitate public access to legislation and ability to manipulate the data in order to gain further insights from it.

  • Keeping Congress Competent: Staff Pay, Turnover, And What It Means For Democracy

    An in-depth look at House staff employment trends over the last quarter century.

  • Hidden Money In The 2010 Elections: A Pre-Election Primer On Recent And Recently Exploited Avenues For Secretly Funding Elections

    As the mid-term elections are in full swing, this primer outlines the changed landscape of political spending and influence and describes provisions that must be included in future transparency legislation in order to shed more light on the true sources of the spending. In addition, for those not fully versed in campaign finance disclosure lingo, definitions for key terms are included at the end of this document.

  • Public Access To The Constitution Annotated

    Organizations and individuals ask Congress to tell CRS and GPO to publish the legal treatise Constitution Annotated online in XML as it is updated.

  • Summary Of House Rules Proposals In The 112th Congress

    After an election, each new Congress rewrites the House Rules, which regulate all activities of the House of Representatives. This moment provides a singular opportunity to make Congress more transparent, ethical and responsive to the public.

  • House Rules Proposals For The 112th Congress

    While recent reforms have created more disclosure than ever before, congressional transparency reforms must be considered an imperative for congressional leadership. And the robust use of technology can make disclosure into a better ethics enforcer, a more effective educator and a strong arbiter of public policy. The House must redouble its commitment to transparency, and deepen the relationship between constituents and representatives.

  • Ten Principles For Opening Up Government Information

    A discussion of ten principles that provide a lens to evaluate the extent to which government data is open and accessible to the public.

  • Letter To Congress Asking For Cosponsors On The Earmark Transparency Act

    A letter asking members of Congress to cosponsor the Earmark Transparency Act. This landmark piece of legislation would require Congress to create an online, searchable database for all earmark requests. By centralizing all earmark requests in a single database, the bill vastly improves the way in which information about earmarks is disclosed.

  • Ellen Miller Senate Testimony On Transparency

    Testimony of Ellen S. Miller, Executive Director of the Sunlight Foundation Before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security March 18, 2010

  • Prepared Remarks For The FCC’s Open Government & Civic Engagement Workshop Program

    John Wonderlich’s Remarks for the FCC’s Open Government & Civic Engagement Workshop Program.

  • Coalition Of Organizations Calls For Hearings On Public Online Information Act

    A coalition of more than 25 organizations called on Congress to hold hearings on the Public Online Information Act.

  • Summary Of The Public Online Information Act

    In the age of the Internet, government is transparent only when public information is available online.

  • Plain Language Version Of The Public Online Information Act

    Summary prepared by the Office of Representative Steve Israel (D-NY)

  • Testimony Of Ellen S. Miller, Executive Director The Sunlight Foundation Before The Committee Rules United States Senate

    Mr. Chairman, Senator Bennett, members of the Committee, thank you very much for the opportunity to submit testimony on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation. My name is Ellen Miller and I am the co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation. The mission of the Sunlight Foundation is to use cutting-edge technology to make government transparent and accountable.

  • A Comprehensive Disclosure Regime In The Wake Of The Supreme Court’s Decision In Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission.

    The Supreme Court, in its Citizen United decision, opened the door to an unfettered, unregulated influx of money into elections from corporations and labor unions. The Sunlight Foundation recommends seven broad transparency measures to address the multitude of problems exacerbated by the decision. Moreover, we urge Congress to immediately create a robust, rapid transparency regime that takes full advantage of technology. This requires real-time, online transparency at every level of influence, from independent expenditures to lobbying to bundled campaign contributions.

  • Illinois Reform Commission Testimony

    Illinois Reform Commission In the wake of the Blagojevich scandals, Illinois’ Governor Quinn set up the Illinois Reform Commission to address systemic governance problems there. John Wonderlich testified before the commission in February of 2009.

  • NY State Senate Testimony

    The New York State Senate’s Temporary Committee on Rules Reform was set up to deal with longstanding procedural issues in the Senate. John Wonderlich testified there in February of 2009.

  • The TARP Lobbying Rules: What They Say And What They Mean For Transparency

    This article examines the TARP lobbying rules and identifies some key differences between the TARP rules and the stimulus lobbying rules, which were issued over the summer and document lobbying over recovery dollars. The article suggests that the Treasure should implement an online searchable lobbying database of all disclosures required under the rules, which would be updated in real-time. The article also suggests that the Treasury, along with the administration generally, should reconsider the format it uses to promulgate rules.

  • Stimulus Lobbying Rules, Take Two

    This article explains how the White House’s Office of Management and Budget’s July 24th guidance on stimulus recovery lobbying differs from its April 7th memo.

  • Broadband And Civic Participation

    The Sunlight Foundation submitted comments on what a national broadband plan should look like, focusing on the relationship between increased broadband access and civic participation.

    We argue that “changes in how (and what) we can communicate, and the speed with which we can do so, will profoundly reshape our democracy. Universal broadband access, ever-increasing bandwidth, and respect for the basic principles underpinning the internet, such as privacy and network neutrality, will result in greater civic involvement in our democracy and stronger connections to one another.” Increasing government transparency will further catalyze civic participation.