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Executive Summary

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A second nationwide assessment of state-level campaign finance disclosure programs has found that 33 states again received passing grades, and 17 states failed the evaluation and have unsatisfactory campaign disclosure programs.  The overall numbers of states passing and failing in 2004 is the same as in 2003, although two states which failed last year received passing grades this year, and two that passed last year received an F in 2004.

Twenty-one states have better grades in Grading State Disclosure 2004 than in last year’s assessment, and overall, states made the most substantial progress in the grading categories of Disclosure Content Accessibility and Online Technical and Contextual Usability.  While the same number of states failed the assessment this year as in 2003, the quality of disclosure across the country did improve, even in some of those states with low grades.  Forty-three states made at least one improvement in their campaign finance disclosure practices, while seven states made no measurable improvements, including Arizona, Connecticut, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Grading State Disclosure is a 3-year 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 supported 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; the 2004 assessment presents findings from a second round of state evaluations.  This year’s findings provide a review of nationwide and state-by-state changes over the past year.  The states that have improved the most since 2003 are: Tennessee, Georgia, California, Indiana and Florida.  Although the findings reveal a significant amount of progress, only eight states received grades in the A or B range, indicating that the vast majority of the states still have room to improve campaign finance disclosure for state-level candidates.

Grading State Disclosure 2004 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 33 passing states, only two received overall grades in the A range.  The top-ranked state, Washington, received an A, and California was a close second with an A-.   Other top states include: Florida (B+), Georgia (B), Illinois (B), Michigan (B), Rhode Island and Ohio (B-, tied), Texas (C+) and Alaska and Kentucky (C+, tied). Seventeen states received F grades.

Significant findings include:

  • 50 states require disclosure of a contributor’s name and address.
  • 28 states require disclosure of a contributor’s occupation and employer.
  • 34 states require late contribution reporting.
  • 39 states require independent expenditures to be reported.
  • 21 states have mandatory electronic filing for statewide and/or legislative candidates.
  • 17 states offer voluntary electronic filing for statewide and legislative candidates.
  • 12 states have no electronic filing program.
  • 47 states post campaign finance data on their web sites.
  • 30 states provide searchable databases of contributions online.
  • 20 states provide searchable databases of expenditures online.
  • 20 states provide summaries of total amounts raised and spent by current candidates.
  • 3 states – Montana, South Carolina and Wyoming – have no campaign finance data available on their web sites. 

Significant improvements since 2003 include:

  • 2 states added electronic filing programs.
  • 3 states removed an opt-out provision from their mandatory electronic filing programs.
  • 3 states converted voluntary electronic filing programs to mandatory electronic filing programs for statewide and/or legislative candidates.
  • 7 states improved how quickly campaign finance data is available online.
  • 4 states added searchable databases of campaign contributions to their disclosure agency web sites.
  • 4 states added searchable databases of campaign expenditures to their disclosure agency web sites.
  • 3 states added features that allow campaign finance data to be downloaded in an Excel-compatible format.
  • 8 states added or made enhancements to summary campaign finance analysis information on their web sites.

Grades were based on criteria developed 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 evaluated.

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 October 25, 2004
| Last updated on October 25, 2004
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