The Sunlight Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on improving government transparency by making government information easily accessible to citizens online.
The policy intern will perform research on legislation and regulations, monitor transparency and open government issues, attend hearings and briefings, assist with event planning, perform light administrative work and occasionally draft blogposts. He or she will report to the Policy Director and work with Sunlight's entire policy team, getting the opportunity to learn about transparent and accountable government from local, national, and international perspectives.
The ideal candidate is committed to a more transparent and accountable government. He or she has practical policy related experience and/or a strong writing background. Additionally, the candidate is detail-oriented, able to multitask and capable of working independently. Familiarity with blogging, wikis, and social media is a plus. The candidate must be a rising junior or senior at the college.
2016 Intern Reflection:
True to its name and mission, the Sunlight Foundation ensures that interns are welcomed into all aspect of its work. Every intern has the opportunity to collaborate on projects, do the work which interests him or her, and pursue the leads which he or she finds most interesting.
Without exception, all staff here has been more than happy to engage with the interns and talk about the work they invest in to make government more transparent and accountable. In my case, I've been working on a project connected to transparency in superPAC donations, specifically contributions coming from shell corporations or other nontransparent entities, like 501c(4) groups. In an election year, it's especially interesting to learn more about the superPAC world, and to investigate some of its darker corners. I have also contributed to a separate effort to create a website containing different municipal data policies, as a means of helping other cities in their efforts to open up their data, and as an example itself of open legislation.
Since Sunlight's work is broad in its scope, an intern here has the opportunity to contribute to projects which differ in domain and type. These include collaborations connected to the federal, state, and municipal policy spheres, all containing their own challenges. Moreover, interns can work with groups like the policy, communications, and labs teams. Each of these teams does different kinds of work, ranging from writing blog posts to researching policy questions or programming a new app. In my case, I was happily surprised to find myself doing a lot of coding in order to do my work, which was a fun opportunity to bridge the tech/policy divide in a place which specializes in doing just that. That being said, Sunlight is a place with opportunities for any intern regardless of technical background or ability.
Gabriel Karger '18
2015 Intern Reflection:
I've been told that being an intern at some places can be an uncomfortable series of awkward interactions with co-workers furrowing their brows to try and place your name, listless days of mindlessly searching the web waiting for a task to appear in your inbox, and the unpleasant creeping reality that you are not being that helpful. Fortunately, that does not describe my experience at the Sunlight Foundation -- not in the least. Upon arriving at Sunlight, the entire staff, not just the policy team that I am on, welcomed me with introductory emails, warm smiles, and donuts in the kitchen. Although the organization strives to improve transparency and open data, a very serious task, it possesses a friendly, relaxed culture, more akin to tech startups. Instead of cubicles, people work in large open rooms and are constantly walking into a different part of the office to ask a question, chat, or collaborate. At lunch, people sit around the table in the kitchen trying to crowdsource crossword solutions, read advice blogs, or debate a new restaurant or recent concert -- it should be noted that the staff are total foodies and huge music fans. Despite the easy-going nature of the staff and office environment, people care deeply about their work and Sunlight's overall mission, are remarkably knowledgeable about their area of expertise, and happily put up with numerous ignorant questions from interns, especially those technical, code-related ones. I've learned about a variety of topics beyond transparency due to the helpful, collaborative nature of the staff. It is such a pleasure to work with intelligent, savvy, and diligent co-workers who also take the time to give you restaurant recommendations.
Sunlight's policy team works on the municipal, state, federal, and international level, and my internship has incorporated all of these aspects of the department. Since Sunlight prioritizes giving interns the flexibility to craft a uniquely engaging experience, I've been able to transition between policy and reporting -- writing blog posts about topics such as Congressional developments on government contractor disclosure and presidential candidates' campaign funding. I've helped craft model legislative language about open data requirements and campaign finance reform at the state-wide level, researched the variety of methods used by U.S. individuals and corporations in an attempt to influence international politics, and investigated Congressional Research Service. I have the pleasure of aggregating and curating a variety of news articles that I email out to the open government community. I also have assisted with an effort to reform the federal government's open data policies and examined the E-Government Act. With the support of the Sunlight Foundation staff, I've been able to explore any topic that has piqued my curiosity.
The Sunlight Foundation continues to provide high-quality tools and insight into government activity because of its dedicated staff who envision and demand an accountable, transparent political world. It has been fantastic to contribute to that goal.
Jonah Hahn '17
2014 Director's Intern Reflection:
Any discussion of the Sunlight Foundation should begin with the people who work there, who care deeply not just about the issues that they work on, but also about fostering a welcoming and collaborative environment, both in the office and in the wider open government/transparency community. I (along with two other policy interns) share desk space in the so-called “intern bay” in between the executive director’s office and one of the policy rooms, which means that people from all over the office pass by our little corner en route to their meetings. Sunlight’s open door/open office policy means that it’s impossible to avoid learning a little about what everyone else is doing, and the size of the organization (about forty people) makes collaboration commonplace. (If anything, our office is a bit too open—people will often seclude themselves to write articles and blog posts so that they don’t get sidetracked by talking with their coworkers!)
Sunlight’s scope extends from the municipal to international level, and my internship has involved learning the ropes of the policy team’s many (many) projects. I’ll usually start off the day by writing a blog post and email to keep Sunlighters and the wider open government community up to date on the latest news and events from the world of open government/transparency. I’ve spent my summer evaluating transparency (and the lack thereof) in governors’ offices around the country and building the groundwork for a new project to collect data on lobbying in all fifty states. I’ve also analyzed open government plans to determine how well federal agencies are complying with the president’s open government executive order and collected data on campaign finance disclosures around the world. While the status quo of governance the world over is not one to inspire confidence in even the most idealistic of watchers of politics, this summer working at the Sunlight Foundation has reminded me that the challenges that we face are not insurmountable, and that a team of passionate and committed individuals can build the knowledge and tools to make open and accountable governance a reality.
Joy Wang '16
2013 Director's Intern Reflection:
Be forewarned, your potential coworkers at the Sunlight Foundation like to run a lot. My desk was near a small flight of heavily-trafficked stairs, so I kept noticing that people inevitably ran up them two or three at a time. The highlight of my internship was uncovering the source of that urgency, that energy. Take passionate, creative people, make them seethe with fundamental problems in our government, give them colleagues they respect and love collaborating with, and you end up with an office that rarely suffers from a bad case of the Mondays. Some days, I attended hearings or conferences that helped me understand the transparency movement and Sunlight's place at its epicenter. Other days, I rounded up developments in open data and transparency news to keep my coworkers and the wider world up-to-speed or exercised my budding programming skills to determine how well federal data sources were playing by their own rules. My prior research experience at Harvard equipped me well for the independent projects Sunlight entrusted me with, like investigating historical transparency movements or evaluating developments in local governance policies. The combination of genuine responsibility for independent work with a welcoming, nurturing community made this summer exactly what an internship should be.
Carrie Tian ‘15
2012 Director's Intern Reflection:
The Sunlight Foundation has a sunny disposition. It’s a many-branched, dynamic place, still expanding and defining its sphere of influence in its ultimate mission of using 21st century technology to open government and redefine public as online.
My daily work varied, but my favorite part was the analysis and writing. In one undertaking, I scrutinized an Ethics Committee meeting detailing the House’s implementation of the recently-passed STOCK Act, contrasting it with the actual STOCK Act and the Ethics in Government Act of 1987 and discovered two gaping loopholes in personal transaction reporting. In another, I wrote a blog post on the state secrets act recently brought before the Senate, and was shocked to learn about the number of its more constitutionally objectionable actions the executive branch can currently keep immune from even judicial review, let alone public scrutiny.
I also had a number of other opportunities, including writing the script for and recording voiceovers for a video in support of the DISCLOSE Act, attending panels and Congressional hearings of interest, and participating in the periodic policy meetings where we decided how to direct our focus and influence in the coming weeks--what legislation to support, which officials to pressure, how to deal with the coming election.
The Sunlight Foundation is friendly, transparent, egalitarian, and dynamic--full of interesting people unbridling their creativity in the pursuit of open and free knowledge. In lieu of recent Supreme Court decisions, transparency is the best weapon we can wield against corruption in politics. I spent an excellent summer at Sunlight, and would happily return.
Madeline Magnuson '13
2011 Director's Intern Reflection:
Most people thought I was working at an environmental nonprofit when I told them I worked at the Sunlight Foundation. And when I explained that it's actually a non-partisan organization seeking to open the government through 21st century technology, I got blank stares or polite nods. If you're looking to spend a summer interning somewhere legendary or internationally famous, don't intern here. But if you're looking for an internship where your work will be published in your name and scrutinized by the blogosphere, where you'll get to wear jeans to work most days, and where you'll feel like you're part of a new movement that is growing faster everyday, you should consider interning here. In the nine weeks I was at Sunlight, I spent probably three or four days doing administrative work; the rest of my time there was spent was discussing, researching and blogging about lobbyist disclosure reform (wrote a piece on this), congressional committee transparency through the web (authored a series on this), secretive campaign financing (got really confused and angry about this), open data initiatives, and more. I found that Sunlight's commitment to openness and transparency spread to the office itself: its open door policy meant that I could (and did) pop into the CEO's office to chat. It was a different kind of place, but I really loved it and it's doing big things. I'd intern there again in a second.
Jacob Hutt `13