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Executive Summary

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A fourth, nationwide assessment of state-level campaign finance disclosure programs has found that 36 states received passing grades, while 14 states failed to meet this study’s criteria for a satisfactory campaign disclosure program. The number of states that passed the 2007 assessment increased by two over the 2005 study, and findings contained in Grading State Disclosure 2007 demonstrate the continued trend of improved campaign disclosure practices at the state level as identified in the previous three studies.

Grading State Disclosure 2007 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.

Evidence of overall improvements is demonstrated by the fact that 21 states earned higher grades in 2007 than those received in the 2005 study. Twenty-eight states received the same letter grade while just one state received a lower grade. Since the initial Grading State Disclosure study in 2003, 30 states have improved their grades, and nearly every state has improved its methods and practices for making campaign finance data available to the public.

A significant area of improvement is in electronic filing; forty states now permit candidates to file disclosure reports electronically. The number of states requiring electronic filing by legislative and statewide candidates has nearly doubled in the past four years, increasing from 12 in 2003 to 23 today. The study found that states with electronic filing programs are far more likely to also provide searchable databases of campaign contributions and expenditures; 90 percent of states with mandatory electronic filing programs also publish online, searchable campaign finance databases.

For the fourth time, Washington has earned the top overall ranking, again receiving the only grade in the A range. California ranked second overall with a B+, followed by Oregon (also with a B+). Florida and Hawaii tied for 4th and also received B+ grades. Rounding out the top ten ranked states in the 2007 assessment, and all earning Bs, are: Michigan (6th); Virginia (7th); Georgia (8th); Illinois (9th); and New Jersey and Ohio (tied at 10th).

An additional seven states earned grades in the B range while 13 states received Cs and five earned Ds. Over one-third of states earned grades in the A and B ranges, seven more than in 2005. Oregon, South Carolina, New York, Colorado and Pennsylvania showed the most improvement since 2005, with South Carolina moving out of the F range for the first time. Kansas also moved out of the F range, leaving the ranks of the 14 states that did receive Fs this year. While significant improvements were achieved in many states, nearly 40 percent earned Ds and Fs.

Significant findings include:

  • 31 states require disclosure of a contributor’s occupation and employer;
  • 36 states require timely reporting of last-minute contributions;
  • 42 states require independent expenditures to be reported;
  • 30 states require statewide candidates to electronically file disclosure reports;
  • 23 states require statewide and legislative candidates to electronically file disclosure reports;
  • 10 states permit, but do not require candidates to electronically file disclosure reports;
  • 10 states have no electronic filing program;
  • 48 states post campaign finance data on their disclosure web sites;
  • 36 states provide searchable databases of contributions online; and
  • 24 states provide searchable databases of expenditures online.

Significant improvements since 2005 include:

  • 2 states increased the number of pre-election reports that candidates must file (Oregon, Tennessee);
  • 2 states increased the number of non-election year reports that candidates must file (Oregon, Tennessee);
  • 1 state enacted an independent expenditure reporting requirement (Vermont);
  • 2 states passed laws requiring timely reporting of last-minute independent expenditures (Vermont, Virginia);
  • 1 state passed a law requiring timely reporting of last-minute contributions (Vermont);
  • 1 state added occupation and employer disclosure requirements (Tennessee);
  • 1 state added subvendor reporting requirements (Tennessee);
  • 5 states enacted a mandatory electronic filing requirement for state candidates (Colorado, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia);
  • 1 state that previously had mandatory electronic filing for statewide candidates only expanded the mandate to include legislative candidates as well (Missouri);
  • 3 states launched new electronic filing programs (Arkansas, New Hampshire, South Carolina);
  • 7 states post campaign filings to the Internet more quickly than in 2005 (Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Tennessee, Wisconsin);
  • 4 states added online searchable databases of campaign contributions (North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina);
  • 4 states added online searchable databases of campaign expenditures (North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania); and
  • 1 state debuted campaign finance data on its disclosure web site for the first time (South Carolina).

Grading State Disclosure is a study of the Campaign Disclosure Project, which seeks to bring greater transparency and accountability to money in state politics through assessments of state disclosure laws and programs. The Campaign Disclosure Project is a collaboration of the UCLA School of Law, the Center for Governmental Studies and the California Voter Foundation and is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The study is a comprehensive, comparative analysis of candidate campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states. The 2007 assessment presents findings from a fourth round of state evaluations and provides an overview of nationwide trends and state-by-state changes.

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.

State assessments are based on research of state laws as of December 2006, survey results from state disclosure agency staff, web site visits and online research from February to June of 2007, and web site testing by outside evaluators in April 2007.

Grading State Disclosure 2007 features a written summary of every state, its overall grade and rank, category grades and ranks, and “quick fix” suggestions that would improve the state’s disclosure web site. This feature was first included in the 2005 report; since then, twenty percent of states have made improvements that reflect the “quick fix” suggestion. Examples of the best online disclosure practices are noted among the “editor's picks”, which highlight a feature of each state’s disclosure program that is particularly innovative or user-friendly. A listing by topic of the 2007 “editor’s picks” is included as an appendix to this report.


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First published October 16, 2007
| Last updated November 17, 2007
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