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Sunlight Foundation
Washington, DC

The Sunlight Foundation uses technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable.

The Sunlight Foundation is:

A think-tank that develops and encourages new policies inside the government to make it more open and transparent.
A campaign to engage citizens in demanding the policies that will open government and hold their elected officials accountable for being transparent.
An investigative organization that uses the data we uncover to demonstrate why we need new policies that free government data.
A grant-giving institution that provides resources to organizations using technology to further our mission and create community
An open source technology community that revolves around the Sunlight Foundation’s core mission

Sunlight Foundation is not verified as a 501(c)3 organization.

Latest News

Aug 21, 2014

Unblight Signage
Unblight Unconference in Macon, GA

Last week, Sunlighters and close to 100 housing advocates and practitioners gathered in Macon, GA for the first ever Unblight Unconference. While the unconference format was a bit unconventional for Middle Georgia, the issue of blight has been plaguing the community for over a decade. The Unblight Unconference, co-hosted by the Center for Collaborative Journalism and the Sunlight Foundation with generous support by the Knight Foundation, galvanized policy makers, technologists and organizers from across the country to more deeply explore the challenges pertaining to vacant and blighted properties while exchanging ideas and developing solutions.

In particular, Unblight attendees heard from Lauren Hood, Community Engagement Manager at Loveland Technologies about the successful blight mapping project in Detroit.

Photo of Unblight Unconference attendees
Passing of the "This Land is Your Land" sign.

Other speakers included Harold Tessendorf from Habitat Macon, Andrew Haeg from Groundsource, Shea Frederick from Baltimore Vacants, Tamara Manik-Perlman from CityVoice, Ben Green & Matt Conway from Data Science for Social Good, Paula Segal from 596 Acres and Matt Hampel from LocalData. Mayor Robert Reichert from Macon-Bibb County gave the keynote on Friday and outlined local government efforts to deal with blight.

While participants got a chance to listen to efforts locally and nationwide, a hallmark of an unconference are the attendee generated sessions and Unblight was no exception. During the two day conference, there were twelve sessions that explored topics such as:

(Click through each link to see the hackpads and notes for each session- you can see all the sessions and the schedules here).

The Unblight Unconference also provided an opportunity for the open data community who were not able to attend the conference to participate by submitting their own technology or housing data project to a project carousel. We hope the catalog will not only serve as inspiration but also provide the much needed knowledge sharing of various efforts and initiatives across the country for housing advocates and practitioners.

Blight is not limited regionally or determined by socioeconomic status and can plague cities big and small. Often times the first step in combating blight is to determine where blight is, either by aggregating government provided data or crowdmapping initiatives (and more often times, both!). By learning from each other and engaging with all the stakeholders in the community, we can un-blight communities and revitalize not just neighborhoods but the people living in them as well.

Missed the Unblight Unconference and want to follow along on social media? Check out this Storify.

Sunlighters with the Unbight sign

Special thanks to the Sunlighters who came to #unblightunconf!

Aug 21, 2014

Welcome to another edition of "Influence Analytics," a recurring series on trends in lobbying and regulations — on and off Capitol Hill — that Sunlight's Reporting Group spots using our data analysis tools.

A sign with the words: "Caution pesticide spraying in progress proceed at your own risk" in front of a garden.
Image credit: Flickr user jetsandzeppelins

A controversial proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen protections for farm workers from adverse effects of pesticide exposure, the first major update to standards for more than two decades, drew comments from more than 200,000 environmental activists, dozens of lawmakers, and public health groups, among others. Meanwhile, the industry groups that first urged an extension of the comment period largely remained silent by the comment due date, according to analysis of regulatory comments on Docket Wrench.

The proposed rule in question, the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard Revisions, sets out tougher standards for training, protective equipment, and decontamination supplies for farm workers, as well as setting a minimum age of 16 for laborers who apply the chemicals or enter fields soon after they've been sprayed.

The proposal updates rules in place since 1992. Some 10,000 t0 20,000 cases of pesticide poisoning are diagnosed in agricultural workers every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

While the official comment count logged by regulations.gov by the August 18 due date hovered just over 3,000, the environmental group Earthjustice claimed it had collected and submitted more than 200,000 petition signatures urging the agency to strengthen the rules. (Often when agencies receive clusters of identical comments, they do not post them all as individual comments online.)

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., organized 70 of his colleagues to sign a letter urging the EPA to go forward with strong rules. Most of the comment clusters identified by Docket Wrench also make the argument for strong protective standards.

Critics of the standards, such as the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, argue that the EPA should concentrate on enforcing existing rules rather than promulgating new ones and claim that risks of pesticide exposure are exaggerated. A long list of farm and industry groups critical of the proposal asked the EPA last spring to extend the comment period from the original due date of June 17; the agency responded by making the due date August 18. The groups include the American Farm Bureau, the Pesticide Policy Coalition, the National Council of Agricultural Employers, and CropLife America. Asking for extensions is a common tactic used by groups seeking to slow down government regulation.

Other news from Sunlight's influence trackers:

Iraq. As American eyes focus once again on Iraq, where the U.S. has been targeting ISIS with air strikes, a review of foreign agent registrations for the beleaguered country can be found here. (Credit: Foreign Influence Explorer.)

Protecting pets. The Pet and Women Safety Act, introduced on July 30, is getting attention, with nearly 200 views last week. Authored by Rep. Katherine Clark, D., Mass., the legislation is designed to increase protection for domestic violence victims who return to abusive situations out of fear for the safety of their pets. (Credit: Open Congress)

Recess. Generally, Republicans have brought up "recess" on the House and Senate floors slightly more than Democrats have, but recently, it's the Democrats who have outpaced their Republican colleagues. (Credit: Capitol Words)

Aug 21, 2014

Tom steyer in green suit speaking in front of blue background.
Tom Steyer speaking before the California Democratic convention in March. Steyer has given more than $30 million to super PACs in the 2014 cycle. Image credit: California Democratic Party, YouTube

Fundraising is gearing up as summer draws to close and left-leaning megadonors are doubling down on their super PAC investments. That's the main takeaway from the newest trove of campaign documents submitted to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Wednesday at midnight was a filing deadline for committees that file on a monthly schedule (party committees, candidates' campaigns and some super PACs) and we're picking through the new documents to bring you some interesting nuggets out of the new campaign data.

The top 20 committees by total raised are below;  you can track all the filings made to the FEC on Real-Time.

And, see July's biggest spenders below:

Superdonors

Sunlight reported on the super PAC investments of Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer in July, both of whom are spending millions trying to shape the political discourse in the midterm elections. Each has launched his own super PAC — Steyer has NextGen Action while Bloomberg launched Independence USA — but the most recent data suggests the former New York City Mayor willing to spread the love, doling out millions to other committees working to elect Democrats.

As of publication Bloomberg had accounted for over $11.4 million in super PAC donations, including a $2 million donation to the super PAC arm of Emily's List in July.

That pales in comparison to the more than $30 million that Steyer, a hedge fund manager, has given. Most of this money has gone to his own PACs, which are fighting to make climate change a salient issue in the midterm elections. The California native has also contributed to the Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC, to the tune of $5 million. He gave another $7 million to NextGen Climate Action Committee in July.

The climate super PAC has been aggressive so far, attacking Republican candidates for ties to the oil industry, support for fracking and, in Iowa, waffling on the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Special interests' fundraising machines' lurching to life

While multimillion dollar checks can infuse instant life into a political committee, interest groups with well established networks of low-dollar donors are also kickstarting their fundraising as November elections approach.

The National Education Association — the national teachers' union — had its largest fundraising haul of the year at over $1 million, pulling in droves of small contributions from its members.

Likewise, the American Bankers' Association's "BANKPAC" upped its fundraising game in July, collecting more than $800,000 from its state affiliates. That's compared to $165,000 the committee raised in June. The bankers' advocacy group doles out hard money contributions to federal candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Sweating over Alaska

If you want to see where an organization's political ambitions lie, the old Washington adage tells us to follow the money. A quick look Senate Majority PAC's spending shows that the powerhouse Democratic super PAC is hell-bent on keeping Mark Begich, D-Alaska, in the U.S. Senate.

Senate Majority is propping up another super PAC, Put Alaska First, which is running ads touting Begich and attacking the incumbents Republican challengers, Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell.

In July, Senate Majority donated another $1.1 million to PAF, bring its total support for the Alaska super PAC — which lists its address as a post office box in Anchorage on FEC reports — to $5.2 million.

Aug 21, 2014

Keep reading for today's look at #OpenGov news, events, and analysis, including the plight of the billionaire in politics, marching against corruption in Brazil, and fighting depression with open data. 

A newspaper with the headline Open Gov

National News

  • Defense Department financial managers are turning to modern data tools as they face shrinking budgets and a less experienced workforce. Meanwhile, the DoD still doesn't know how to audit itself, despite Congressional demands. (Government Executive)
  • Three billionaires jumped into politics last year in an attempt to reform the immigration system, and likely improve their bottom lines. However, all three have been quiet on the issue in this election year, perhaps realizing that money alone isn't always enough to get what you want. (POLITICO)

International News

  • If you live in London and are passionate about Freedom of Information, you'll have a chance to discuss it in depth with some international experts on September 3rd. (MySociety)
  • A group of anti-corruption activists walk across a section of Brazil every year, checking in on local government finances as they go. (Transparency International)
  • Latin American NGO Poder is tackling corporate transparency with their new project, Quien Es Quien Wiki (Who's Who Wiki). The project uses wiki technology to crowdsource information about companies and their activities. (Tech President)

State and Local News

  • As unrest and controversy continue in Ferguson, Missouri more and more police departments around the country are publicly discussing the idea of outfitting their officers with body cameras. The cameras have been shown to reduce "use-of-force" incidents and citizen complaints in areas where they are already in use. (Ars Technica)
  • Depression is a terrible affliction and can hit teens especially hard. A popular help line, Crisis Text Line, is using open data to better understand depression and serve the teens that use it for help. (Knight Foundation)

Events Today

Do you want to track transparency news? You can follow the progress of relevant bills, court cases, and regulations using Scout. You can also get Today in #OpenGov sent directly to your preferred news reader. If you would like suggest an event, please email mrumsey@sunlightfoundation.com by 7 am on the Monday prior to the event. 

Aug 20, 2014

Keep reading for today's look at #OpenGov news, events, and analysis, including plenty of new data, changes in Ferguson, and trouble for Andrew Cuomo.

A newspaper with the headline Open Gov

National News

  • Cause of Action, a group that pursue's government transparency through legal action, is moving against a dozen federal agencies that have pushed back against its document requests. Cause of Action is accusing the Obama Administration of politicizing the requests to avoid sharing information. (Government Executive)
  • New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the ebb and flow of wetlands and forests along America's coasts. Between 1996 and 2011 the US lost more than 17,000 square miles of coastal forests and wetlands. (Government Executive)
  • Data, obtained from the Pentagon by the New York Times, detailing arms transfers from the Department of Defense to local police departments over the past half decade is now up on GitHub for all to view and use. (New York Times)

International News

  • Mexicans are worried that a new telecom law will bring censorship and surveillance to digital communications. They aren't going to get any help from the independent Federal Institute for Access to Public Information and Data Protection, which has declined to challenge the proposed law in court. (Global Voices)

State and Local News

  • In the wake of the ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting of Michael Brown officials in the town have pledged to invest in cameras that will be worn by officers to record their interactions. (Government Executive)
  • Police departments in California's Bay Area collect data on the racial make of of the people that they stop and arrest. This data could be of vital importance, but it is rarely shared or analyzed. (Government Technology)
  • Bad news for potential 2016 presidential candidate Andrew Cuomo -- an overwhelming majority of his home state's voters think government corruption is a major problem and nearly half of them put the blame at least partially on his shoulders following a string of not-so-flattering revelations. (POLITICO)

Events Today

Events Tomorrow

Do you want to track transparency news? You can follow the progress of relevant bills, court cases, and regulations using Scout. You can also get Today in #OpenGov sent directly to your preferred news reader. If you would like suggest an event, please email mrumsey@sunlightfoundation.com by 7 am on the Monday prior to the event. 

Aug 20, 2014

An image of Brittany Suszan.

Brittany Suszan, SpotCrime. Image credit: SpotCrime

SpotCrime is a public facing crime mapping and alert website founded in 2007. We use open crime data from cities across the US to create maps and alerts for our users. Currently, we’re estimated to be the most visited crime mapping site in the US with over 1 million monthly views and sending out over 8.5 million email alerts a month.

Our popularity and over 7 years of experience with crime data across the country has allowed us to recently evolve from simply publishing crime data to becoming an advocate for open, equal and fair access to crime data.

Many residents, journalists and open data advocates want to see this data available. They just don’t have as much time to devote to the issue as we do. Because SpotCrime spends a great deal of effort on figuring out if each US city is open with their crime data, we’ve taken the time to score the cities based on what we know about their crime data transparency.

Ranking Cities

We rank US cities on a scale of 0 to 2 on how open and transparent their police agencies are with crime data. A 2 rank means the city is open with its data, a 0 means it’s not. More on the ranking system is below.

The hope is that these rankings will jump start discussions about the importance of openness and availability of crime data, question why some US cities are more open than others, why some cities haven’t started sharing data, what is being done differently from city to city and how to make crime data openly available in every US city. We’ve even created the SpotCrime Open Crime Standard - SOCS - to help with this.

Open Data is Key

When a city wants to be open with crime data, we recommend they create and release the information themselves. A trend has emerged among police agencies that when they contract with a third party proprietary crime mapping vendor, the open data feed already available to the public is arbitrarily turned off.

This is not open data. Open data is when the public has the ability to download the information in a machine readable format, use it, map it and share it as they please.

The Rankings

Check out the full list and ranking system below. Our original list started with 50 cities, but over the past couple of months we’ve added cities at the request of our users.

There are cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago who have consistently been open with crime data - even if they do contract with a preferred vendor - earning them a 2 ranking.

In cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio and Columbus where a proprietary vendor was given preferential access, we’ve been successful in helping restore or create an open and unrestricted feed. All three of these cities have moved to a 2 in the ranking system.

Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Indianapolis are cities we haven’t been so lucky - yet. Minneapolis is ranked 1 because they still provide .pdfs of data (.pdfs are not open data). Las Vegas gets a 0 because there’s no way to collect data openly.

In Indianapolis it’s our understanding that the original data feed we were using to map crime was requested by the Office of Homeland Security of Indiana. However, because of recent computer upgrades and budgetary issues, that data is no longer being requested and is therefore no longer available and open to the public. It’s frustrating to see a massive technological database upgrade reduce open access to crime data. On top of that, the Indianapolis Police Department recently contracted with a proprietary vendor. When this happened, they jumped from 2 to a 0 moving from one of the most open cities in the US to one of the most restricted.

The List

Do you disagree with any of the rankings? Don’t see a city you’d like added? Let us know. We’ll add it and rank it on our ‘live’ list.

More About The Ranking System

A 2 rank is the highest rank meaning the city is open with crime data and follows the following criteria:

  • Fair and equal access to the data; there are no restrictions on use or sharing of the information
  • It’s free; no registrations, licenses, fees, etc are associated with collecting the information
  • It’s available in machine readable format or a format capable of automating
  • Information is timely and up to date

A 1 rank is the middle rank. The city may publish some sort of crime data feed, but it’s:

  • Incomplete (missing part of a location, missing time, etc)
  • Out of date (In some cases up to date information is only given to a preferred vendor and everyone else has to wait up to a week to receive similar information)
  • The information is in a really hard to read format (.pdf, fax, snail mail, word doc)

A 0 rank is the lowest rank meaning:

  • There is no open crime data feed available
  • Or, most of the time, crime data access has been given to a third party proprietary vendor who then places restrictions on how the information can be used and shared

Brittany Suszan does Market Development for SpotCrime, a Baltimore-based crime mapping and alert website. She loves talking about the importance of open crime data with police agencies, open data advocates and the public. You can follow her Open Data board on Pinterest, read more about crime data at the SpotCrime Blog, or reach her by email at brittany[at]spotcrime.com.

Interested in writing a guest blog for Sunlight? Email us at guestblog@sunlightfoundation.com

Aug 19, 2014

file folders filled with paper on shelves

The National Archives and Records Administration is working on new guidance for agencies that are "transferring permanent electronic records" to them for archiving. Specifically, NARA is writing new requirements for metadata, information about the records being transferred that is valuable internally and externally for search and organizational purposes. We are excited to say that NARA is reaching out to its stakeholders, both inside and outside government, for feedback on its proposals.

Sunlight has read through the relevant documents and provided NARA with some suggestions and examples (reprinted below). NARA has asked for comments by August 22, 2014. We urge you to take advantage of this opportunity for public comment and provide NARA with your own comments and proposals.

  • The schema as currently laid out does not provide for documents that may already be available to the general public via the internet (or other means). NARA should consider adding a metadata field describing where documents that are publicly available reside (a link to their webpage)
  • NARA should consider making their metadata guidance and related documents open source and available via Github or another platform that would facilitate ongoing public comment. Seeking out public feedback is important. Open sourcing related documents and viewing this metadata guidance as a living document would be a valuable step forward, ensuring that all feedback is heard and helping the document stay fresh and useful moving forward. Project Open Data provides an excellent example of the utility of this approach. The POD Metadata Schema has grown more robust since its introduction thanks to its presence on Github and continued efforts at public collaboration by the POD team.
  • With this in mind, we would also urge NARA to adopt the POD schema as a minimum standard. As Gray Brooks of GSA noted in his recommendation to NARA, the POD schema is both standards based and spreading across the federal government. Working from the same base will allow NARA to easily interface with a broad and growing range of agency documents and data, serving both government interoperability and, eventually, the public discovery process.
  • Finally, it is worth pointing out another government that is approaching their metadata review in a similarly public manner. In July, San Francisco, CA, released a draft of their new metadata standard as well as related documents, and asked for public feedback using a short survey.

It is heartening to see governments on multiple levels thinking strategically and openly about their metadata policies. We look forward to following NARA's efforts as they proceed.

Aug 19, 2014

Democrat Wendy Davis and Republican Greg Abbott, frontrunners in a contentious, expensive and corporation-influenced gubernatorial race in Texas. Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Although the United States’ corporate transparency compares poorly with its international peers, some states, like Washington, stand out for their “better practices” on corporate disclosure. As LLCs become an increasingly common vector for anonymous political donations – due to their unusually lax requirements on disclosing owner names, unlike corporations that must name a corporate board – Washington’s required reporting of LLC manager and member names has been a boon to campaign finance transparency. But other states still engage in dismal corporate transparency practices, counteracting the progress made by states like Washington and weighing down the U.S.’ OpenCorporates transparency ranking to 26th place worldwide. What state is most responsible for negatively skewing this nationwide ranking?

Ringing in at dead last in OpenCorporates’s internal U.S. ranking is Texas, with an impressively bad score of 0/100. The state’s corporate registry is shrouded behind an account system that not only requires personal information like one’s name and address, but also their credit card information. Even temporary and one-time accessors have to put forth this information. The online registry requires this information not to charge a periodical access fee, but to charge for copies of corporate documents on a case-by-case, download-by-download basis.

There is no other state that locks up its corporate data behind this barrier. Texas needs to join the other 49 in taking a critical step toward free corporate data and to stop requiring a credit card in order to access this data. To improve our ability to track private influence on public decisions, corporate records must be free and easily available to the public.

Texas’ non-disclosure of corporate data is especially ironic for a state that’s previously been rocked by the circumvention of campaign finance laws. In 2010, Tom DeLay, former House Majority Leader and Republican representative for Texas’ 22nd District, was convicted of illegally funneling corporate donations to state legislative candidates. Through his PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority, DeLay accepted $190,000 in corporate donations, which he promptly passed onto the Republican National Committee. With his donation trove, DeLay also sent a list of state candidates and a prescribed donation amount. The RNC complied, donating DeLay’s corporation-sourced funds to his desired state candidates in the 2002 elections. DeLay’s handing-off of corporate donations violated the Texas state code, which prohibits corporate donations in Texas state races. The open disclosure of corporate names, however, facilitates the tracking of corporate donations, so roundabout corporate contributions cannot surreptitiously end up in some candidate pockets.

Texas should provide barrier-free access to its corporations database, as well as its corporate governance database, to help citizens track the flow of money into politics. This is especially true for a state that’s facing a hotly contested gubernatorial election. State attorney and Republican candidate Greg Abbott faces the Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis in what observers believe could be one of the most expensive races for a Governor’s mansion this fall.

Through PACs, Texas LLCs have already poured campaign funds into this upcoming election. Roundabout LLC donations especially seem to have benefitted Texans for Greg Abbott, which now has has $30 million in its campaign war chest. Texans for Greg Abbott’s massive stockpile eclipses that of the Texas Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee, the next largest PAC in the state with a comparatively humble $7.5 million in funds. One of its largest donors, Q PAC, has provided nearly $400,000 from its donation cache, significantly funded by Renegade Swish, LLC. In Washington, we were able to use state corporate data to trace back such LLC donations to a specific, named group of members and managers. But in Texas, people interested in the source of those donations will be unable to find out more than this LLC name, unless they register their name, address, and credit card information in order to access the state’s corporate records.

The rest of the states have set a precedent for more open corporate data, and in turn, improved campaign transparency – a critical step in providing some clarity in a donation ecosystem increasingly affected by ambiguously owned LLCs. In anticipation of a gubernatorial election that may become a magnet for corporate money, it’s time for Texas to fall in step with national corporate disclosure norms and provide this critical data without restrictions to access.