Opening Up about Transparency: The Sunlight Foundation Conversation

Transparency is a phenomenon that we comfortably recall from our elementary school science classes. Why is that?  One reason could be that  it is easy to understand and to demonstrate: transparent objects are the ones we can see through. Another reason, however, could be that transparency has ethical properties too. If we have the ability to  see through something, then we believe we can get a more truthful and non-distorted image or understanding of it.

It is not surprising then, that in recent times, when our political leaders and institutions have demonstrated that they neither remember what transparency is nor understand its value, that a new social movement has emerged. That social movement centers on the ethical principle of transparency. 

Standing out from the many organizations working in the transparency movement is The Sunlight Foundation. Since 2006, this Washington, DC based nonpartisan, nonprofit has created a network of innovative and highly energetic individuals to make transparency a natural phenomenon and a right  the American people can expect their political leaders to answer for. 

A2Ethics.org went to Washington to find out what makes the Sunlight Foundation's approach unique and why it is vital for us to know about their work and mission. So we talked to Avelino Maestas, the Community Manager for one of the main programs of the Sunlight Foundation.  We called on Avelino to discuss the ethics of transparency: we asked him to put transparency up to the light.

Please join us in listening to all or parts of our very informative discussion at the Sunlight Foundation. The topics are headlined. Also, please note that  listed below are the approximate times during the podcast where certain topics are discussed. To skip to a section, please click the button on the moving bar and slide it to the correct time.

0:00 – Introduction, what is transparency?

5:00 – The health care bill

7:15 – About Sunlight Foundation and OpenCongress.org

11:05 – Information on OpenSecrets.org, Govtrack.us, LegiStorm.com

14:05 – Effectiveness of Sunlight Fountain and OpenCongress.org

16:15 – Wherearetheynow.sunlightprojects.org – Staffers who have become registered lobbyists

20:05 – How can people participate and communicate with lawmakers via the Internet?

24:15 – Can transparency be standardized via open source code, regardless of geographical location?

29:35 – Are there any ethical or other types of issues with crowdsourcing?

32:40 – What are obstacles for transparency?

37:10 – How does proprietary technology and lobbying affect the Sunlight Foundation’s work?

41:25 – Is there a problem with lobbyists and conflicts of interest?

44:50 – Suggestions for transparency for non-profits

48:10 – How did Avelino Maestas get involved in the Sunlight Foundation?