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Disclosure Content Accessibility

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Fifteen states made positive changes in 2005 in the Disclosure Content Accessibility category, which again saw the second-highest number of improvements across the states.  Eight states improved their grades in this category, and there were two more As and two more Bs this year than in 2004.

A total of eleven states received A grades for Disclosure Content Accessibility, ten states received B grades, three states received C grades and four states received D grades.  As in 2004, 22 states received failing grades in this category, although it was not the same 22 states.  One state that failed in 2004 received a B in 2005(Virginia), and one state that received a barely passing grade in 2004 dropped to an F this year (Connecticut).  Montana, South Carolina, and Wyoming still do not post any campaign finance data on the Internet, and rank at the bottom.

  • 47 states post campaign finance data on their disclosure web sites.
  • 3 states have no campaign finance data available on their web sites.
  • 32 states provide searchable databases of contributions online.
  • 20 states provide searchable databases of expenditures online.
  • 27 states allow campaign finance data to be downloaded from their web sites in a spreadsheet format.
  • 31 states post campaign finance data online within 48 hours.

Significant Changes Since 2004

  • 3 states added online searchable databases of contributions (Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia).
  • 1 state added an online searchable database of expenditures (Virginia).
  • 2 states added fields to existing searchable databases (Missouri and New Jersey).
  • 1 state removed a searchable database of contributions and expenditures from its disclosure web site (Delaware).
  • 3 states posted campaign filings to the Internet more quickly in 2005 (Florida, Hawaii, and Maine).
  • 4 states reduced the cost of obtaining paper copies of campaign finance reports (Iowa, Maine, Missouri, and Nevada).

States that provide the best access to campaign finance records are:  Washington; Michigan, Rhode Island and Texas (tied for 2nd); California, Florida and Hawaii (tied for 5th); and Georgia, Maine, Maryland and Ohio (tied for 8th).

States with the weakest access to campaign finance records, in rank order from 41 to 50 are: Alabama, Nevada and New Mexico (tied for 41st); Arkansas and Delaware (tied for 44th); South Dakota; New Hampshire; Montana; Wyoming; and South Carolina.

One of the most important things a disclosure agency can do to facilitate public access to campaign finance data is provide up-to-date, online, searchable databases of campaign contributions and expenditures that feature a variety of options for querying data and organizing results. This year, Minnesota and Nebraska added searchable databases of contributions to their disclosure web sites, and Virginia added a searchable database of both contributions and expenditures.  New Jersey and Missouri added new search fields to existing databases.  Thirty-two states now offer the public the ability to search campaign contributions, and 20 offer searchable databases of expenditures.  Of the 18 states with no online search feature, four—North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin—allow site users to download campaign finance data in spreadsheet format from the state’s disclosure web site.

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It is still the case that states with mandatory electronic filing are more likely to offer the public an online searchable database of contributions, though some state agencies that receive filings on paper do data-enter itemized contributions to create searchable databases.  Eighty-three percent of states with mandatory e-filing offer a database of contributions online, compared to 61 percent of states with voluntary e-filing, and just 31 percent of states without an electronic filing program.  The advantage provided by mandatory electronic filing is even more pronounced in the case of searchable databases of expenditures, with 71 percent of states with mandatory e-filing providing such a database online, compared to just 23 percent of states with voluntary e-filing.  Of the thirteen states without electronic filing, none offer the public a searchable expenditures database on their disclosure web sites.

Among states that make campaign disclosure filings available online but whose disclosure web sites do not feature searchable databases, there are a number of mechanisms used for providing the public with access to the information.  Some states feature itemized records in HTML displays that are either static or allow data to be sorted online.  A number of states simply scan paper disclosure reports and post them online as either PDF or TIFF files, but this method results in varying degrees of readability and accessibility, depending on whether files can be displayed using a standard program such as Adobe Reader or whether specialized software must be downloaded and installed in order to view reports.

The benefits of online access to campaign records are many, but an obvious and important one is that the public can find out about candidates’ campaign finance activities far more quickly than was ever possible before the advent of the Internet, when people had few options other than visiting disclosure agencies in person or waiting for media outlets to report on disclosure data.  Of the 47 states that today offer disclosure filings online, 31 post those filings to the web within 48 hours of receipt, with another ten states posting all records within one week.  Because electronically-filed reports typically become available online either in real-time or on the same day they are filed, states with mandatory electronic filing have the strongest record of providing prompt public access to campaign finance reports.  Some disclosure agencies have policies requiring them to withhold e-filed reports from the web until all candidates for a particular office have filed, but even that usually results in only a slight delay in online access.  In 2005, three states—Florida, Hawaii and Maine—improved in this area and reported they are posting data to the Internet much more quickly than in the past.

While states increasingly report that fewer people are requesting paper copies of campaign disclosure records (particularly in those states with excellent Internet access to campaign data), they also generally recognize the need to continue to provide the public with easy access to paper reports, and several states improved in this area in 2005.  Iowa, Maine, Missouri and Nevada all lowered the cost of paper copies of disclosure records, with Nevada cutting the cost in half from $1.00 per page to $.50 per page—still very high, but a definite improvement.  Alabama and South Dakota continue to charge the highest rate, at $1.00 per page, while Ohio charges the lowest rate of any state, at three cents per page.  The majority of states charge between $.10 and $.25 per page, and the median rate is $.20 per page.

In addition to accessing campaign records on paper or on states’ disclosure web sites, journalists, watchdog organizations, and others sometimes prefer to receive large quantities of disclosure records on CD, a format that more easily allows for analysis of several candidates’ records or all campaign committees’ reports for a given election cycle.  Thirty-six states now offer the public campaign data on CD, disk or via email, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Maine, which all added this option in 2005.

 

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This page was first published on October 26, 2005
| Last updated on October 26, 2005
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