MapLight was founded in 2005. In 2005 and 2006, the organization focused on tracking donations to the California State Legislature. At that time, the name of the organization was TakeBackCA.org. In 2007, the organization launched a much more ambitious national effort that does for the U.S. Congress what it learned how to do studying the California State Legislature. It then changed its name to the current name, MapLight.org.
In 2009, MapLight won recognition from the northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists with the conferral of the "James Madison Freedom of Information Award." According to the SPJ chapter:
- "MAPlight.org, a Berkeley-based nonprofit organization, has been illuminating the connection between money and politics since 2005, using sophisticated analytical tools that have helped generate hundreds of news stories about potential conflicts of interest in the legislative process nationwide and in the California statehouse. The organization, headed by technology entrepreneur Daniel Newman, specializes in combining data from the voting records of legislators, from supporting or opposing interests for bills, and from campaign contribution data. This work enables MapLight to show contributions to politicians from vested interests and when they voted for or against bills. In addition to its database work, MapLight has quickly become a leading advocate for opening up electronic access to voting records of our public officials."
MapLight receives funds to support its programs from:
- Sunlight Foundation
- JEHT Foundation
- Open Society Institute
- Rockefeller Brothers Fund
- John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation
- Columbia Foundation
- Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation
- Threshold Foundation
- Rockefeller Family Fund
- Arkay Foundation
- William B. Wiener Foundation