Sunlight Foundation

Sunlight Foundation


* Assets: $799,582 (2017)
* Grants Received: $495,097 (2017)
* Grants Awarded: $0 (2017)

The Sunlight Foundation (SF) was established in 2006 with the goal of “using the revolutionary power of the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy.” The Foundation derives its name from former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s assertion that “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

SF’s executive director (and one of its co-founders) is Ellen Miller, who previously served as deputy director of the Campaign for America’s Future, where she headed its Project for an Accountable Congress. Miller also established Public Campaign[1] and the Center for Responsive Politics[2], both based in Washington, DC. Moreover, she is a former publisher of, a former fellow with The American Prospect, and an occasional contributor to The Nation.

SF’s other co-founder and current chairman is Michael Klein, a retired attorney who now serves as a trustee of the American Himalayan Foundation and the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

SF currently oversees four major projects:

1) Track Influence: Focusing chiefly on the financial support base of political candidates, this project encompasses the following ongoing initiatives: Political Ad Sleuth is a national, online database identifying the purchasers of television airtime for political ads. Checking Influence monitors how much money U.S. corporations spend on lobbying activities and campaign contributions. Follow the Unlimited Money is a searchable database of organizations that pay for ads and other forms of political communication. Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker digitizes information that representatives of foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities must disclose to the U.S. Justice Department when they seek to influence American policy. Inbox Influence enumerates the political contributions that have been made by the people and organizations that send political fundraising solicitations to Americans via email. Influence Explorer lists the federal- and state-level political contributions that prominent individuals and businesses make each year. Lobbyist Registration Tracker is a database that allows users to see lobbying registrations as they are submitted. Party Time documents the meetings—private and public alike—that political candidates and office-holders conduct with their supporters. And Poligraft is a website that allows users to paste the URL or text of a news article, blog post, or press release, and then creates “an enhanced view of the people, organizations and relationships described within it.”

2) Inner Workings of Congress: This project includes several key initiatives: Call on Congress is a free telephone service that helps citizens learn about the voting records of their congressional representatives. Politwoops is a comprehensive collection of deleted tweets—from minor typos to major gaffes—by U.S. politicians. Scout is a rapid notification service that allows anyone to create customized email or text alerts on actions Congress takes on an issue or a specific bill.Capitol Words, whose database dates back to 1996, explores the most popular words and phrases used by legislators in the U.S. Congress. The House Expenditure Database is a searchable database of each House member’s spending history. And the House Staff Directory provides the names and public contact information of all elected representatives and their staffers.

3) Track Legislation and Public Policy: This project encompasses the following campaigns: The Open State Project makes data from state legislatures available in a format accessible to all Internet users. Clearspending is a scorecard that analyzes how well U.S. government agencies are reporting their spending data on the website Open Congress “brings together official government data with news and blog coverage, social networking, public participation tools, and more.” OpeningParliament is a “global initiative bringing together more than 80 international organizations to develop best practices on how the world’s legislatures should be transparent and accountable.” PublicMarkup allows the American public to review and comment on proposed congressional bills before they are introduced or while they are pending. Roku Open Government Apps stream audio-visual content from the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court to any Roku player. Sunlight Academy is an interactive training portal that provides instructional and educational resources “to make government more transparen[t] and accountable.” Sunlight Live is an interactive, real-time investigative reporting platform that live-streams coverage of major congressional hearings and news events, while providing “relevant transparency data about the influences on elected officials.”

4) Mobile Apps: This array of smartphone applications includes the following: Ad Hawk is a free mobile and web application that uses audio fingerprint technology to determine who is buying political ads. Congress and Real Time Congress allow people to “access real-time information about Congress” on their smartphones. Open States provides up-to-date information on the past and present activities of state legislatures nationwide. Sunlight Health, developed with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, furnishes smartphone users with health- and medical-related data. And Upwardly Mobile, also developed with Knight Foundation support, helps users “find a better place to live by comparing factors of salary, living and employment data and ranking it based on [their] preferences.”

Among the key recent recipients of SF grants are such organizations as the Center for Independent Media, the Center for Media and Democracy, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the National Priorities Project, and the People for the American Way‘s Young Elected Officials Network.

Noteworthy funders of SF include the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations (owned and controlled by George Soros), the Pew Charitable Trusts, Pro Publica, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Family Fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

To view a list of additional noteworthy supporters of the Sunlight Foundation, click here.

For additional information on the Sunlight Foundation, click here.


[1] Public Campaign is funded by the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Columbia Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Ford Foundation, the JEHT Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.

[2] The Center for Responsive Politics is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts; and the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.

(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)

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