Sunlight Foundation brings transparency and accountability to congressional activity. In doing so, co-founder Ellen Miller empowers citizens with the information necessary to become active participants in their government.
“Sunlight’s work is about restoring balance of access to information and, therefore, power. Our work will never be done.”
Ellen Miller believes that if we are to work toward “a more democratic and just society,” open information should be the rule, not the exception. She founded the Sunlight Foundation so anyone can ‘shine a light’ on political workings. But Sunlight is more than just a government watchdog. It’s an amalgam of databases, online tools, and interactive websites that present congressional information and connections that can help “everyone from the average citizen, a philanthropist, or a member of Congress,” gather information, contact their legislators, and help rebuild the civic trust.
To this end, Sunlight fosters “technology to make government transparency and open data, cool, fun and easy for anyone to understand.” Their newest project 'Scout', a great new tool for journalists, non-profits, or concerned citizens in general, is a rapid alert system that lets members track bills and regulations as they move through Congress or state houses. Alerts can be issued through email, SMS text, RSS feed and are completely searchable.
Other projects include 'Call on Congress', a free telephone service (1-888-907-6886) that tells callers how their representatives are voting on bills and raising campaign money, connects them to their lawmakers’ Capitol Hill offices, or offers details on where to vote on Election Day; ‘Poligraft’ allows users to paste in the link of a news article and a graph reveals how the people and organizations in the story are connected to each other (or other entities) and how they spend their money; ‘Political Party Time’ tracks who’s wooing whom by reporting on which politicians are partying where and with whom; ‘Stream Congress’ aggregates every social media update from Congress members into a single newsfeed.
There’s a searchable database that monitors congressional spending, another one tracks organizations that are paying for political ads and communications. Mobile apps offer real-time Congressional updates or help citizens find affordable healthcare options or a better place to live. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what a curious, concerned citizen can find with Sunlight — or offer, through its open-source community. Asked about any moments when she might’ve given up, Ellen says, “Believe it or not, I’ve never had one of those moments. There is always a road not taken.”