Sunlight Datakit - Congress in your App

Sunlight Labs has released a public API, their Sunlight Datakit. It's a straight-forward, simple API for getting access to their Civic data, like Congressional Representatives, zipcodes, timezones, and some geographic information.

There is some basic information about elected representatives that makes politico mashups easier: the ability to tie a name to a state, the district and zip codes that they represent, their office telephone number, and so on. We have put together a simple labs "datakit" that does this for us, drawing from several publicaly available data sources. We are making this fully available and have provided a fully documented API for the methods we have developed for those sources. Find out about the datakit here.

Of course, any API needs a nice little client to tie it into your applications. Here is my Ruby client. It's very simple, because is uses the fallback method_missing to handle any function passed to the class. This also allows the class to be extended by implementing specific methods if more processing of the response is needed.

require 'open-uri'
require 'rexml/document'
require 'cgi'

class Sunlight
def self.method_missing(service_method, *args)
params = args[0].collect {|k,v| CGI.escape(k.to_s) + '=' + CGI.escape(v.to_s)}.join('&')
url = SUNLIGHT_HOST + service_method.to_s + "?" + params

resp = Sunlight.getDistrictFromZip5({:zip => 20740})
puts resp.inspect
# MD:5
# MD:4

resp = Sunlight.getRepresentativeNameFromCityState({:city => 'Detroit', :state => "MI"})
puts resp.inspect
# Kilpatrick, Carolyn C.
# Conyers, John Jr.
# Levin, Sander M.
# McCotter, Thaddeus G.
# Dingell, John D.

The Sunlight Datakit currently offers the following functions. Check out the documentation for information on the parameters and returned values.

  • getDistrictFromZip5
  • getStateFromZip5
  • getDistrictFromZip9
  • getStateFromZip9.php
  • getRepresentativeNameFromDistrict
  • getRepresentativePhoneNumberFromDistrict
  • getRepresentativeRoomNumberFromDistrict
  • getCityFromZip5
  • getCityStateFromZip5
  • getLatitudeFromCityState
  • getLongitudeFromCityState
  • getZipCodesFromCityState
  • getTimezoneFromCityState
  • getRepresentativeNameFromCityState
  • getRepresentativeNameFromState
  • getStateAbbreviationFromStateName
  • getStateNameFromStateAbbreviation

About this article

written on
posted in ProgrammingWebRubyMashup Back to Top

About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.