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Campaign Disclosure Laws

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Of the four categories assessed in the Grading State Disclosure study, states across the country again performed best in the area of Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws.  Four states’ laws received grades in the A range, and there were more B grades (19) in this category than in any other.  Twelve Cs and five Ds round out the passing states; ten states failed the disclosure law assessment.

  • 28 states require a contributor’s occupation and employer to be disclosed.
  • 6 states require only a contributor’s occupation to be disclosed.
  • 2 states require only a contributor’s employer to be disclosed.
  • 14 do not require disclosure of either occupation or employer. 
  • 34 states require late contribution reporting.
  • 49 states require a description of an expenditure.
  • 20 states require subvendor information to be reported.
  • 39 states require independent expenditures to be reported.
  • 21 states require last-minute independent expenditure reporting.
  • 30 states conduct mandatory desk reviews.
  • 13 states conduct mandatory field audits.

Significant Changes Since 2003:

  • 1 state added independent expenditure reporting (Iowa).
  • 1 state added in-kind contribution reporting requirements (North Dakota).
  • 1 state added mandatory desk review of campaign finance disclosure reports (South Carolina).
  • 2 states added or enhanced reporting of a contributor’s occupation and employer (Texas and North Dakota).

States with the strongest disclosure laws, in rank order from one to ten, are: California; Washington; Montana; Hawaii; Georgia; Minnesota; Kentucky; New Jersey and Virginia (tied for 8th); and Florida, Missouri and North Carolina (tied for 10th).

States with the weakest disclosure laws, in rank order from 41 to 50, are: Maryland; Indiana; Utah; New Mexico; Vermont; Nevada; Alabama; Wyoming; South Dakota; and North Dakota.

The study again found that all states require disclosure of some itemized contributor information, and in almost all states there is a threshold for the reporting of those contribution details. Every state except South Dakota requires reporting of the date a contribution was made. Twenty-eight states require the disclosure of the occupation and employer of contributors, and an additional eight states require one or the other, but not both.  Thirty-three states require cumulative contribution reporting.  Last-minute contributions must be disclosed prior to an election in 34 states.

Disclosure of loan details is weaker across the states.  Every state except North Dakota and South Dakota at least requires the disclosure of the date a loan was made to a campaign.  However, only 33 states require disclosure of the loan guarantor, 14 states require disclosure of the loan interest rate, and 13 require reporting of the due date. Disclosure of in-kind contributions is required in all states except Indiana; North Dakota added this provision to its law this year.

Forty-nine states require the reporting of some level of detail for campaign expenditures, with North Dakota still being the one exception. Twenty-one states have no threshold for disclosure of expenditures, and candidates must disclose each expenditure regardless of amount.  All 49 states that require expenditure disclosure also require descriptions of expenditures, either through plain-language descriptions, the use of descriptive codes, or both.  Forty-six states require the date of an expenditure to be reported.  South Dakota is the only state of the 49 with expenditure disclosure that does not require reporting of vendor name.  Twenty states require reporting of subvendor information, such as a breakdown of credit card or consulting bills.  While 39 states require the reporting of independent expenditures, only 21 states require last-minute independent expenditures to be reported before the election.  Of those states that require independent expenditure reporting, only six do not require disclosure of who will benefit from the expenditure.

Campaign disclosure laws are most beneficial to the public when they are enforced, and many states do a great disservice to their citizens by lacking adequate enforcement. Thirty states conduct mandatory desk reviews of campaign finance disclosure filings, but only 13 states conduct mandatory field audits of campaign finance-related receipts and documents.  While all 50 states have either civil or criminal enforcement mechanisms for compliance with campaign finance disclosure requirements, only 39 states have both forms of enforcement.  Forty-nine states impose penalties for late filing of campaign contribution reports; only Alabama does not have this provision in its law.

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This page was first published on October 25, 2004
| Last updated on October 25, 2004
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Campaign Disclosure Project. All rights reserved.