As stated in the note from the Sunlight Foundation′s Board Chair, as of September 2020 the Sunlight Foundation is no longer active. This site is maintained as a static archive only.

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Tag Archive: Guest Blog

OpenGov Voices: OpenCourts: Bringing transparency to the Slovak judiciary


Samuel Spac According to the latest Global Corruption Barometer, the judiciary in Slovakia is the least trusted institution in the world, and 70% of Slovakians consider it to be corrupt. This is partly because the Slovak judiciary system has no external influence and enjoys a very high level of independence not only from other branches of power, but also from the general public. Last July, the OpenCourts portal (available only in Slovak and the first open data project dealing with the judiciary branch) was launched by Transparency International Slovakia. Its main goal is to make the Slovakian system more transparent and allow the public to control courts and judges in order to hold them accountable.

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How much lobbying is there in Washington? It’s DOUBLE what you think



With the help of the lobbying industry, Washington’s regional economy seems to have weathered the economic storm of recent years.  Curiously, though, the seemingly simple question “How much lobbying is there in Washington?” is surprisingly hard to answer.  After Congress passed the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), which ostensibly required all “lobbyists” to report their activities on behalf of paying clients, the answer should be a no-brainer: just find the legally-mandated disclosure forms, and count them up.  The Center for Responsive Politics, with support from the Sunlight Foundation, has been doing this (well!) for years.

The problem is that just about everybody in the influence world knows that these numbers fall way short of reality.  You might even say “under-the-radar,” “stealth,” or “shadow” lobbying is a bit of an Open Secret in Washington.  What we don’t know is just how many shadow lobbyists there are.

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OpenGov Voices: Announcing CitizenAudit, a free tool for fully-OCRd nonprofit financials


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the Luke Rosiakopinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Luke Rosiak is a former Sunlight Foundation reporter and database analyst who now writes for the Washington Examiner. Luke is also a winner of Sunlight Foundation’s OpenGov Grants for his project, CitizenAudit. You can reach Luke on Twitter at @lukerosiak.

In return for not paying taxes, nonprofits in the U.S. file detailed financial disclosures to the IRS, listing how much of their money goes to certain categories, how much they pay their top people and what groups they give money to.

But even though large nonprofits submit structured electronic data, the IRS takes pains to convert it into paper copies and doesn’t make them available publicly at all, instead directing interested parties to request a copy from the organization itself.

Recently, tech pioneer Carl Malamud’s Public.Resource.Org began successfully filing Freedom of Information Act requests for all disclosures--990s, as they are called---and paying the IRS on a monthly basis for reams of DVDs with TIFF images. Some are scanned paper filings, for others the IRS went out of their way to turn structured data into a mere image. None has an embedded text layer.


The information is invaluable for philanthropists, journalists and competitors--and the universe of nonprofits is enormous, including the major sports leagues, political groups, hospitals and universities and quasi-public institutions.

So I began an enormous OCRing spree, using open-source tools and home-built software and put the results in elasticsearch and PostgreSQL on a free site. The effort, half the funding for which came thanks to a Sunlight Foundation OpenGov grant of $5,000, is called

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OpenGov Voices: PDF Liberation Hackathon – At Sunlight in DC, SF and Around the World – January 17-19, 2014


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Marc JoffeSunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Marc Joffe is the founder of Public Sector Credit Solutions (PSCS), which applies open data and analytics to rating government bonds. Before starting PSCS, Marc was a Senior Director at Moody’s Analytics. You can contact him at Marc is also one of the winners of Sunlight Foundation’s OpenGov Grants.

Extracting useful information from PDFs is a problem as old as … PDFs. Too often, we focus on extracting information from a specific set of documents instead of looking at the bigger picture. If you’ve ever struggled with this problem, join us for Sunlight’s PDF Liberation Hackathon, dedicated to improving open source tools for PDF extraction.

Instead of focusing on one set of documents, coders will come together to add features, extensions and plugins to existing PDF extraction frameworks, making them more flexible, useful and sustainable. Sunlight’s PDF Liberation Hackathon will tackle real-world PDF data extraction problems. In doing so, we will build upon existing open-source PDF extraction solutions such as Tabula and Ashima’s PDF Table Extractor. ( A full list of PDF extraction technologies relevant to the hackathon can be found on our resource page here.) In addition, hackers will have the option of using licensed PDF software libraries as long as the implementation cost of these libraries is less than $1,000. If you have an idea for a library you want to use, please mention it in your signup form and we will try to work out the licensing ahead of time so that things run smoothly.

Register now to attend the PDF Liberation Hackathon!

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OpenGov Voices: Opening Italy’s Parliament with Open Parlamento


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is Vittorio Alvinonot responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Vittorio Alvino is the founder of Open Polis -- an independent organization that promotes transparency and the democratic participation of Italian citizens by developing and implementing projects to enable free access to public information on political candidates, elected representatives and legislative activity. Vittorio can be reached at

With Open Parlamento we wanted to tear down the wall between the Italian people and the institutions that govern the country by publishing and sharing all relevant information on the activity of the Italian parliament. When the project began in 2009, our organization was the first to publish data about parliamentary attendance and details about each voting session. Although we do not always succeed, our goal is to reach the everyday citizen with simplified and comprehensible information about what happens in the Parliament and offer some interpretation - based on data - of politicians’ behaviours and choices.

Sadly, the political debate in Italy in recent years has progressively deteriorated. Parties and institutions have lost much of their credibility and the focus of the general public has shifted towards scandals and corruption. In the meantime, far away from the center of attention, economic and political interest are at stake.

Through the simple use of parliamentary data, we want to empower citizens by giving them the chance to create and support their own political opinion. For this reason, the data needs to be elaborated graphically, making it easier to understand. The same information is also analyzed by our staff in order to find the “news” behind the data. All of our work is then shared via web, social media and Italy’s main news outlets. Interestingly enough, at times our users, besides national media, are the first to use the data from Open Parlamento as their source for graphic elaborations, articles, tweets and reports.

Open Parlamento

The obstacles in this field of work are many, but things have gotten better in recent times. Nonetheless, much still needs to be done in order to improve the process by which data are updated and collected. Due to incomplete and rarely updated open data, we’ve been forced to develop programs that on a daily basis scrape thousands of web pages from the sites of the Italian Parliament.

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OpenGov Voices: Using Data to Tackle Migration: #AmericasDF


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.Kathryn Striffolino

Kathryn Striffolino is the Advocate & Science for Human Rights Project Coordinator for Amnesty International. You can follow her @katiestriff. Ella Kirchner, an intern at Amnesty, contributed to this post.

Take a moment to imagine the possibilities if you were to gather individuals with a variety of skillsets—from migration policy experts, to migrants who have experienced the oftentimes deadly journey from Central America to the U.S., to technologists — in an attempt to tackle some of the most pressing migration related issues in our own hemisphere and leveraging technology and data whilst doing so.

The weekend of November 2-3 will do just this at the Americas Datafest — a 48-hour hackathon bringing together programmers, engineers, journalists, NGOs, human rights defenders, data scientists and migration experts around the Americas region to join forces to make a difference. We will collaborate in both physical and digital spaces in over 20 locations across the hemisphere (including Washington, D.C.) with the goal of making an actual impact on migration challenges in the Americas.

Teresa Bouza, the deputy Washington, D.C. bureau chief of Spain’s global news agency EFE and a recent alumna of the Knight fellowship program at Stanford University, is the lead organizer of the Americas Datafest. (She also worked with Sunlight to organize the Bicoastal Datafest we held in February.) Microsoft Research, Facebook, Univision, Intridea and Data Community DC are some of the organizations supporting the event, that also has the strong backing of Amnesty International.

Hackathons are increasingly being utilized by local and international communities as a means to address entrenched human rights challenges.

What is the problem we seek to tackle?

The world has 214 million migrants, but without enough information and data on these migrants, no one alone can adequately tackle the challenges that migrants in our hemisphere face. Bela Hovy, chief of migration at the United Nations, told Americas Datafest in an interview that "Misconceptions about immigration can only be dispelled through getting the facts on the table.” Computer scientists, software developers, data scientists and others can help tackle the issues of getting data online and analyzing the data to better solve the issues.

Thousands of people migrate across Mexico every year, most from Central America. This is a dangerous and often deadly journey; thousands are beaten, raped, kidnapped or murdered as they make their way across Mexico. They suffer these abuses mostly at the hands of criminal drug cartels, but officials are also complicit in these crimes. Hundreds of migrants die every year along the US-Mexico border alone and many more die while crossing Central America and Mexico. The importance of gathering, analyzing and leveraging data on abuses committed against migrants cannot be overstated.

Please join us in developing solutions!

Whether in person or virtually, please join us to collaborate with others across the Americas to make a difference – write code, build apps, create tools and resources to address the migration challenges in our hemisphere. You might even win an award! The top two winning teams at each location will be nominated for a global award—judged by an esteemed panel of international judges—including Amnesty International’s Frank Jannuzi.

Americas Datafest. (Photo credit: Amnesty International)

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OpenGov Voices: Opening asset declarations in Argentina — more than a decade of struggle


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not Maria Baronresponsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

María Baron is the Executive Director of Directorio Legislativo -- a nonpartisan organization, which promotes the strengthening of legislative branches of government and the consolidation of the democratic system through dialogue, transparency and access to public information in Argentina. She can be reached on

"The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Albert Camus

Asset declaration filesIt seemed like the myth of Sisyphus, who repeatedly and meaninglessly pushed a boulder up the mountain just to see it roll down again and again for 12 years. That is how long it took Directorio Legislativo to access nearly 2,000 financial statements of national legislators in Argentina.

It took us 12 years to beat Sisyphus. Now everyone can easily see representatives who declare false information, undervalue their patrimony, have conflict of interest in certain votes in Congress, or own guns, yachts and jewelry.

At the beginning it was chaos. Obscurity. No one in Congress would release the documents so we had to individually ask each of the 329 members of both Chambers. There were other times when together with other organizations, we litigated against the Argentine Chamber of Deputies and the case was in the Supreme Court for four years. In 2003, we organized 100 volunteers to ask the Argentine Senate to release financial statements of all Senators. We trained them with these recommendations on how to contact Senators (page 33 Annex A). The campaign, which lasted 4 months, ended with a presidential Senatorial Decree (419/02) signed by Dr. Juan Carlos Maqueda, Acting President of the Senate -- who declared that the documents must be made available “to the citizens who have made this demand and to any person who should request them in the future”.

In 2003, among other organizations across the world who recognized the case, was the World Bank. Additionally, during the next five or six years, the asset declarations were also released -- nearly 15 months after they were formally required by law.

After years of collecting the information a new question arose. What should we do with the 2000 documents we had?

Other international organizations had not been interested in the documents in the beginning and we figured they would not be interested in the future either. Looking for ways to make use of the information, our Colombian friends of Congreso Visible showed us how their alliance with local leading newspaper El Espectador in 2012 had increased their web users enormously.

A little bit more than a year ago, the leading newspaper La Nación of Argentina got interested in using all the data we had. We signed an agreement and reached out to sister organizations Poder Ciudadano and ACIJ -- who had also been collecting the same data on public officials within the Executive and Federal Judges respectively.

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