The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that uses the Internet to increase government transparency, has received a $4 million grant from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s philanthropic investment firm the Omidyar Network.
Sunlight was founded in 2006 and has helped create a number of government-related databases, including OpenCongress.org, Congresspedia.org, OpenSecrets.org, and EarmarkWatch.org. OpenCongress, for example, has detailed profiles of bills, senators, representatives, and committees — this is all publicly available information, but the Sunlight Foundation tries to make it easier to research and track and to visualize the data through features such as a bill-tracking widget and a “head-to-head” vote comparison between two different senators or representatives.
Many people (including me) hope President Barack Obama’s administration will set a much higher standard of transparency than his predecessor. There have been some discouraging signs on that front, but Obama’s team has at least acknowledged the Internet’s promise to increase transparency and accountability with sites like Recovery.gov, where you can track how the economic stimulus money gets spent. (Obama’s appointment of Vivek Kundra as chief information officer seemed like an inspired choice at first but hit a road bump when the FBI raided his old office to investigate a former employee — Kundra took a temporary leave from his job, but has since returned.)
I figure that if the Obama team lives up to its promises, there will be a lot more data for the Sunlight Foundation to parse and distribute. If it doesn’t, then groups like Sunlight are even more important to keep pushing the government to open up. USA Today published an op-ed yesterday by Sunlight co-founder Ellen S. Miller about how the Internet enables transparency.
The new grant brings Omidyar’s total investment in the Sunlight Foundation to $8 million.