September 20, 2016

The Sunlight Foundation, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting transparency in government, will lay off five staffers in the coming weeks as it seeks to merge with another organization, according to a source at Sunlight.

The cuts come in the wake of a months-long search for an executive director to take over for Christopher Gates, who exited the nonprofit earlier this year. Although Sunlight considered about two dozen candidates to replace Gates, the nonprofit’s board failed to settle on his successor.

That’s prompted the board to reconsider the future of Sunlight, according to a statement published today by Chairman Mike Klein.

The board has not found a candidate for executive director who persuaded us of both a compelling new strategic vision and of their capacity to lead Sunlight to its achievement. Accordingly, we have determined to explore alliances with other organizations similarly motivated, perhaps merging with one of them, in an arrangement that advances and preserves Sunlight’s mission and identity with increased efficiency and effectiveness.

Today’s reductions notwithstanding, the current headcount at The Sunlight Foundation is about 20, roughly half of what it was in early 2014, according to a source at the nonprofit. In the last two years, Sunlight has trimmed staffers working for its news and technology divisions.

Sunlight’s technology division, Sunlight Labs, has seen many of its employees leave over the last two years as the nonprofit has sought to clarify its mission. Among other projects, Sunlight Labs developed Politwoops, the service that archives and surfaces tweets deleted by politicians.

In his announcement Tuesday, Klein said the rapid pace of technological innovation has “reduced the urgency of Sunlight’s early role as a leading transparency innovator.”

As a result, Sunlight will discontinue its tool-building and database maintenance efforts and ask others to continue its “most promising projects,” Klein wrote.

In reaching these conclusions, the board recognizes and honors what The Sunlight Foundation has achieved. Thanks to the efforts of hundreds, we have compiled a record of pioneering innovation in policy, governance, and technology.

Several ex-Sunlight Foundation staffers are working to keep OpenStates, a project that scrapes every state bill on a daily basis, alive, according to a former employee.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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