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Electronic Filing Programs

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E filing Programs
Grading State Disclosure 2008
offers a clear contrast to the findings presented in Grading State Disclosure 2003 in both the quality and quantity of states’ programs for filing campaign finances electronically. In 2003, there were 35 states with electronic filing programs as compared to 42 today, including Kansas and Montana, which implemented new programs in 2008. Twenty-four states earned grades in the A range in 2008, up from just eight in 2003.

The higher performance in the electronic filing category stems from more states making electronic filing mandatory for at least some candidates. In 2003, just twelve states required both statewide and legislative candidates to file electronically; today, 24 states have mandatory programs for all statewide and legislative candidates, including South Carolina, which began its mandatory electronic filing program for legislative candidates since the last assessment. Further, four states have passed laws to implement or expand mandatory electronic filing over the next several years (Alaska in 2009; and Iowa, Louisiana, and Wyoming in 2010).

Electronic Filing: from Fs to As, 2003 to 2008
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
Along with the 24 As, four states earned Cs in 2008 and two earned Ds; the remaining 20 states failed this category. Because of the value placed on mandatory electronic filing requirements by this assessment, twelve states that operate electronic filing programs that are voluntary for all candidates are also among the failing states.
  • States with the strongest electronic filing programs, all receiving an A+ and tied for first place in this category, are: Arizona; Colorado; Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Illinois; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Missouri; New York; Ohio; Oregon; Rhode Island; South Carolina; Texas; and Washington.
  • States with no electronic filing (all tied for the last place rank) are: Alabama; Idaho; Mississippi; Nebraska; North Dakota; South Dakota; Vermont; and Wyoming.
Significant 2008 findings:
  • 42 states have an electronic filing program for candidate campaign finance reports;
  • 30 states have a mandatory electronic filing requirement;
  • 24 of these states require electronic filing by candidates for both statewide and legislative office;
  • 6 states require electronic filing for statewide candidates only;
  • 12 states have voluntary electronic filing for statewide and legislative candidates;
  • 39 states reported having adequate funds to administer their electronic filing program and 3 reported inadequate funding; and
  • 8 states have no electronic filing program.
Significant changes since 2007:
  • 1 state added a mandatory electronic filing program for legislative candidates (South Carolina);
  • 2 states added voluntary electronic filing programs (Kansas and Montana);
  • 1 state passed legislation to require legislative candidates to file electronically beginning in 2010 (Louisiana); and
  • 1 state passed legislation to require both statewide and legislative candidates to file electronically beginning in 2010 (Wyoming).

Types of Electronic Filing Programs

Mandatory electronic filing programs offer the public the best access to campaign finance data by ensuring greater numbers of candidates’ filings are easily and quickly posted online. States vary in terms of which candidates are required to file electronically, with 30 states requiring at least some candidates to do so. Most states’ electronic filing mandates are triggered when candidates reach a certain fundraising or spending threshold, with the threshold amount ranging from zero (Hawaii) to $250,000 (Connecticut). The average threshold for statewide candidates is approximately $20,000, while legislative thresholds are closer to $10,000 nationally on average.

While mandatory filing requirements are the ideal, and weighted heavily in this study, twelve states currently maintain electronic filing programs that are voluntary for candidates. It is important to note that these states, while receiving Fs in this category, are outperforming and rank higher than those states with no electronic filing program. Because electronic filing offers an easy and accurate way of complying with disclosure requirements, it is becoming more popular with candidates. Disclosure agencies continue to report increased use of voluntary programs, with participation rates for statewide candidates reported at 54 percent and 43 percent for legislative candidates, up from 25 percent and 27 percent in 2005, respectively.

Eight states do not currently have an electronic filing program for candidates. Wyoming’s new mandatory program is scheduled to be online in 2010. Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Vermont reportedly have programs in development while Alabama, North Dakota, and South Dakota have not reported any progress.

Electronic Filing Programs in the States
Mandatory: Statewide &
No E-filing
24 States: 6 States: 12 States: 8 States:
Arizona New Jersey Connecticut Alaska arrow Alabama
California New Mexico Indiana Arkansas Idaho green arrow 
Colorado New York Louisiana arrow Delaware Mississippi green arrow 
Florida Ohio North Carolina Iowa arrow North Dakota
Georgia Oklahoma Virginia Kansas Nebraska green arrow 
Hawaii Oregon West Virginia Kentucky South Dakota
Illinois Rhode Island   Minnesota Vermont green arrow 
Maine South Carolina   Montana Wyoming arrow
Maryland Tennessee   Nevada  
Massachusetts Texas   New Hampshire  
Michigan Wisconsin   Pennsylvania  
Missouri Washington   Utah  
arrow  State has adopted or expanded mandatory electronic filing to begin after 2008
 green arrow  State has reported plans for an electronic filing program

Electronic Filing Methods

States offer electronic filing programs through the use of software, web-based systems, or both. Currently, all state electronic filing programs are operated at no charge to candidates, with 34 states operating web-based programs, 15 providing software, and seven offering both options. Thirty-three states have developed a standard filing format (technical specifications) for filers, ensuring that electronically-filed reports are compatible with the disclosure agency’s computer system and software, regardless of the filing method or software used. All 42 states with an electronic filing program offer training (such as classroom sessions and help desks) to assist electronic filers.

Funding and Support for Electronic Filing Programs

Adequate funding is a critical component of successful electronic filing programs; in addition to the resources necessary to establish a new program, disclosure agencies also need funding for hardware and software maintenance and upgrades, and to provide support and training to candidates. Most states recognize the need to continue to provide a stable funding stream that anticipates both program growth and the need to stay technologically current. The Grading State Disclosure 2008 survey showed that of the 42 states currently operating electronic filing programs, 39 (93 percent) reported having adequate funding for their existing electronic filing programs (Alaska, California, and North Carolina did not). However, the study also found that money is a barrier keeping 15 states from expanding or improving their existing programs.

The Grading State Disclosure 2008 survey also inquired about the level of technical support available to state disclosure agencies, as well as whether that support comes from “in house” or outside staff. Ninety-five percent of state disclosure agencies reported having access to “adequate” or “strong” technical support, up from 83 percent in 2007, with 73 percent reporting strong support. Of the states reporting strong technical support, 83 percent received either all or a portion of their technical support from within their own agency or department.

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First published September 17, 2008
| Last updated September 17 2008
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Campaign Disclosure Project. All rights reserved.