05/13/2008 04:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sunlight's Latest -- Fortune 535

It's - ta da -- Fortune 535, Sunlight's latest project that visualizes lawmakers' personal financial disclosure data from 1995-2006. (The time period from which this data is readily available.)

Fortune 535 also lets citizens compare the net worth growth of each lawmaker to that of the average American family, and lists the wealthiest lawmakers, those with the greatest change in their net worth, those who began their congressional careers with no net worth and those whose net worth was less than $0 in 2006.

As part of our mission to make more congressional information publicly accessible, the site also provides PDFs of the first disclosure reports filed by lawmakers, including those who began their tenure before 1995 (when available). To obtain these, we photocopied reports published, in book form, by the General Printing Office. Personal financial disclosure reports were mandated by the Ethics in Government Act in 1978.

During this project, we learned of the challenges of measuring lawmakers' net worth while relying on data from a seriously flawed disclosure system. Lawmakers disclose their assets (though not including their homes) and liabilities in ranges, not precise values. For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reported in 2007 that she and her husband have a net worth somewhere between $86 million and negative $9 million. Whether the Speaker of the House is extremely wealthy or on the verge of declaring bankruptcy (or somewhere in between) cannot be determined from her financial disclosure form. That's why we support more precise reporting requirements as well as full online disclosure and preservation of lawmakers' personal financial disclosure reports.

Take Fortune 535 for a spin!