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Executive Summary

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A third nationwide assessment of state-level campaign finance disclosure programs has found that 34 states received passing grades, and 16 states failed the evaluation and have unsatisfactory campaign disclosure programs. Two states that failed last year moved into the ranks of the passing states this year, and one state that passed in 2004 slipped to an F in 2005.  The 2005 assessment found that overall, states continued the trend of improvement identified in Grading State Disclosure 2004. 

Thirteen states improved their grades from those received in the 2004 study, while 30 remained the same and seven states received lower grades.  Since the initial Grading State Disclosure study in 2003, 24 states have improved their grades, and nearly every state has made some improvement in its campaign finance disclosure practices.  

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 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 2005 assessment presents findings from a third round of state evaluations and provides a review of nationwide and state-by-state changes over the past year. 

New in this year's report are two features appearing at the end of each state’s summary: "quick fix" suggests a simple modification that would improve each disclosure agency's web site, while "editor's pick" highlights a feature of each state’s disclosure program that is particularly innovative and/or user-friendly.  States seeking to improve their disclosure web sites and programs can find many best practices in online disclosure and web site design among the "editor's picks".

Grading State Disclosure 2005 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.  Washington, which ranked 1st in the nation for the third year in a row, received the only grade in the A range.  Florida ranked second overall with a B+, followed closely by California (also with a B+).  Other top states include: Hawaii (B); Georgia and Illinois (B, tied); Virginia (B); Michigan and Texas (B-, tied); Rhode Island (B-); and Ohio (B-).  Sixteen states received F grades.

The states that have improved the most since 2004 are Virginia, Iowa, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine and New Mexico.  Although the findings reveal a significant amount of progress, less than one quarter of the states received grades in the A or B range, indicating that the vast majority of states still have room to substantially improve campaign finance disclosure for statewide and legislative candidates.

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.
  • 35 states require timely reporting of last-minute contributions.
  • 40 states require independent expenditures to be reported.
  • 24 states have mandatory electronic filing for statewide and/or legislative candidates.
  • 13 states offer voluntary electronic filing for statewide and legislative candidates.
  • 13 states have no electronic filing program.
  • 47 states post campaign finance data on their disclosure web sites.
  • 3 states – Montana, South Carolina and Wyoming – 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.
  • 20 states publish current campaign finance overviews online.

Significant improvements since 2004 include:

  • 1 state added timely reporting of last-minute independent expenditures.
  • 2 states increased the number of pre-election reports that must be filed by candidates.
  • 3 states that previously had voluntary electronic filing programs converted to mandatory electronic filing for statewide and/or legislative candidates.
  • 1 state that previously had mandatory electronic filing for statewide candidates added mandatory electronic filing for legislative candidates.
  • 3 states posted campaign filings to the Internet more quickly in 2005.
  • 3 states added online searchable databases of campaign contributions.
  • 2 states improved their explanations of which reports can be found on their disclosure 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 sets 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 26, 2005
| Last updated on October 26, 2005
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