As a Rules & Policy analyst, this is a busy time of year at my office. The State Legislature is closing their session and that means a flood of bills are being voted on.  We have to analyze them clause by clause to discover anything we believe might impede our department from carrying out its mission.

As bills come to a vote, it is not uncommon for amendments to be added.  Sometimes the proposed changes seem to completely unrelated to the bill. Often a single sentence can impact the public dramatically.  We cobble together an analysis and fire it over to our administration, who then lobby the legislature for or against the proposed language in the bill.

Bill tracking software is a niche business. To me, it seems symbolic that proprietary software allows private sector business groups to monitor and influence public sector legislation.

However, there open source apps available to ordinary citizens for tracking legislation.  Even better, there are communities working together to make the legislative process more transparent.

One such community is the Sunlight Foundation.  In addition to developers, the Sunlight Foundation offers non-tech opportunities to shine a light on bills, influence, and elections.

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The Sunlight Foundation is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses the tools of civic tech, open data, policy analysis and journalism to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent to all. Our vision is to use technology to enable more complete, equitable and effective democratic participation. Our overarching goal is to achieve changes in the law to require real-time, online transparency for all government information, with a special focus on the political money flow and who tries to influence government and how government responds. And, while our work began in 2006 with only a focus on the U.S. Congress, our open government work now takes place at the local, state, federal and international levels.

We believe that information is power, or, to put it more finely, disproportionate access to information is power. We are committed to improving access to government information by making it available online, indeed redefining “public” information as meaning “online.”

We approach our work in a number of ways. We work with thousands of software developers, local transparency activists, bloggers, on and off-line active citizens and journalists, involving them in distributed research projects, hackathons and training. Sunlight’s Policy team pushes for improved transparency policy through NGO efforts like, and by working directly with governments at all levels. Our reporters cover political influence stories both through reporting and through close collaboration with technical staff, leveraging computer-assisted reporting and data visualization techniques. And in Sunlight Labs, our team of technologists and designers create apps and websites to bring information directly to citizens, as well as building and maintaining APIs—Application Programming Interfaces—that power the applications and work of others.

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Welcome to the Sunlight Developer Community! On this page you’ll find a sampling of projects to get you started on contributing to an OpenGov project. There are three categories for projects:

  • Needs tech help, for projects that need a software developer’s touch
  • Needs non-tech help, for projects that rely on a community of volunteers to help analyze government data
  • Projects to inspire, for projects that aren’t actively seeking contributions, but are open source projects, ready to be deployed in your home jurisdiction.

    Foreign Influence Project

    Sunlight Foundation Help track how foreign governments and entities try to influence U.S. policy by helping us comb through amazingly detailed records on file at the Department of Justice. These records provide the most detailed information available on how Washington’s influence industry work. Help us to turn it into a searchable, sortable database that developers, journalists and citizens can use.

    Needs Non-Tech Help

    United States Glossary

    Sunlight Foundation A collection of pleasant, readable definitions of terms and processes in the United States. Designed for integration in various user-facing applications. Ease of understanding is the #1 priority. Precision and completeness are #2.

    Needs Non-Tech Help

  • Bill Nicknames

    Sunlight Foundation Bill Nicknames is a github repository that contains a CSV with popular bill numbers matched with their (unofficial) nicknames. For instance, HR3590 is mapped to ‘obamacare’ and ‘ppaca’, and HR3101 is mapped to ‘hipaa’. This project always needs help adding new bills that are commonly referred to by their nickname instead of by their official bill title.

    Needs Non-Tech Help

Photo by jacopast

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