Open Government Advocate Sunlight Foundation Will Continue, Leaders Say

Open government advocate Sunlight Foundation will continue with its former interim executive director at the helm, a new deputy director and some staff departures.

by / December 16, 2016
Volunteers hold signs guiding people to the location of lunchtime food trucks at the Sunlight Foundation's TransparencyCamp 2013, a camp focusing on open data and transparent government efforts. Flickr/The Sunlight Foundation

The Washington, D.C.-based open government advocate Sunlight Foundation "will endure" with John Wonderlich as executive director and Alex Howard as its deputy director, according to a Dec. 16 blog post signaling the beginning of a new chapter for the nonprofit after word this fall that it could be in trouble.

Wonderlich, who has served as Sunlight's interim executive director since Jan. 4, and Chairman Mike Klein wrote in the joint post that the nonprofit foundation "will continue its role as a nonpartisan advocate for open government" with the former at its helm.

Wonderlich previously led the foundation's Policy Group and had been its policy director for nearly eight years beginning in 2007. Howard joined the foundation in April as a senior analyst.

During the past two months, Wonderlich and Klein said, the foundation has heard people around the world highlight the role it has played in "the global transparency movement," and how important its work in the public interest "is and can be, as an independent institution."

"Unfortunately, several staff will be departing as part of this transition," they wrote. It was not immediately clear who will be leaving the foundation and when, or how that could affect its mission to advocate for open government and use technology to make government more accountable.

Going forward, however, the foundation will continue to preserve and defend open government and its work to bolster democratic institutions. Its efforts to defend and enhance similar gains around the world will also continue, the officials wrote.

So will its work with cities and statehouses to improve open data policies and implementations, they added, and opposition to challenges to open government, press freedom and "regressive legislation and regulation."

"We are grateful to our friends and allies in the nonprofit world who stepped up to preserve tools for transparency following our September decision to transfer databases and apps to stable, motivated successors and to close Sunlight Labs as a separate development team," Wonderlich and Klein wrote, referring to a Nov. 1 announcement that various Sunlight Labs' products would continue to be available. "The updates we have heard post-adoption confirm that we made good choices and have honored the legacy of our colleagues."

These products include its federal legislative tools through ProPublica, campaign finance tools through the Center for Responsive Politics, and its searchable inventory of criminal justice data sets and research through The Marshall Project.

The foundation, which began in April 2006, weathered the departure in January of Executive Director Chris Gates after less than two years. In September, Klein announced that the foundation would suspend its search to replace Gates and consider merging with another similar organization.