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Executive Summary

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A nationwide assessment of state campaign finance disclosure has found that 33 states received passing grades, while 17 states do not have satisfactory campaign finance disclosure programs and failed the assessment.

Grading State Disclosure is a study by the Campaign Disclosure Project – a collaboration of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law – and is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The study is the first comprehensive, comparative study of candidate campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states. While there are signs of progress and some innovative practices throughout the country, the study found that a vast majority of the states still have significant room to improve campaign finance disclosure programs for political candidates.

Thirty-three states received passing grades in the study, which evaluated four specific areas of campaign finance disclosure: state campaign disclosure laws; electronic filing programs; accessibility of campaign finance information; and the usability of state disclosure web sites. Of the passing states, only two received grades in the A or B range. The top-ranked state, Washington, received an A- and the second-ranked state, Illinois, received a B. Rounding out the top ten were Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Hawaii, Florida, New Jersey, California and Michigan, all of which received grades in the C range. Seventeen states received F grades.

Significant findings include:

  • 29 states require disclosure of a contributor's occupation and employer.
  • 35 states require late contribution reporting.
  • 49 states require a description of an expenditure.
  • 40 states require independent expenditures to be reported.
  • 20 states have some type of mandatory requirement for electronic filing of campaign finance reports.
  • Of the 20, twelve states require electronic filing by candidates for both statewide and legislative office, and eight require electronic filing for statewide candidates only.
  • 16 states allow voluntary electronic filing by candidates for statewide and legislative office.
  • 14 states have no electronic filing program.
  • 47 states post campaign finance data on their web sites.
  • 3 states – Montana, South Carolina and Wyoming – have no campaign finance data available on their web sites.
  • 27 states provide searchable databases of contributions online.
  • 17 states provide searchable databases of expenditures online.
  • 48 states provide some information about campaign finance restrictions and disclosure reporting requirements online.
  • 2 state disclosure agencies, in Arkansas and Delaware, provide no explanatory information about campaign finance laws on their web sites.

The findings of the study show that many changes could be made to improve state disclosure programs in each of the categories that were researched. States that performed well in one or two of the categories often performed very poorly in the other categories, and as a result did not receive good grades. In particular, significant progress can be made in the areas of accessibility to campaign finance information and web site usability. Half of the states failed in both data accessibility and web site usability and no state received an A in usability.

Grades were based on criteria created by the Project partners, the Project's Advisory Board and a panel of expert judges, who also assisted with the grading process. The Project set a high, but not impossible, standard for state campaign finance disclosure programs. The grades were based on a state's performance in the area of candidate disclosure only; lobbying, conflict of interest, ballot measure and party organization disclosure were not considered.

Assessments of each state were based on legal research, web site visits and research, web site testing by outside evaluators and responses from state disclosure agency staff and activists working on campaign financing at the state level.

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This page was first published on September 17, 2003
| Last updated on September 17, 2003
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