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Disclosure Content Accessibility

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Accessibility: Top States
1. Washington Grade: A+
2. Ohio Grade: A+
3. Oregon Grade: A+
Most Improved States
Since 2007
Since 2003
1. West Virginia 1. Tennessee
2. Arkansas 2. Oregon
3. Tennessee 3. South Carolina
Fifteen states earned As in the Disclosure Content Accessibility category in 2008, up from 13 last year and just seven in the initial 2003 assessment. While Hawaii slipped from the A range, three states moved up from Bs to As in 2008 (Georgia, Illinois, and Oregon). Three states earned Cs and five earned Ds. Fourteen states earned failing grades in the accessibility category in 2008, ten less than in 2003. Three states earned passing accessibility grades for the first time in 2008 (Arkansas, South Carolina, and West Virginia) while Connecticut dropped from a D in 2007 to an F.

Forty-nine states now offer the pubic the ability to view campaign finance data online, with all 50 states scheduled to be doing so by 2010. Forty-nine states provide online access to itemized campaign contribution data, and 47 post itemized campaign expenses. Montana posted campaign finance data to its disclosure web site for the first time in 2008, while Wyoming remains the only state without an online disclosure program (though legislation passed in 2008 will bring campaign finance data online in 2010).

Electronically-filed campaign finance reports are far more likely to be instantly accessible online in formats that are easy to read, search, sort, or download than those filed on paper.

While there are many options for publishing disclosure data online, electronically-filed campaign finance reports are far more likely to be instantly accessible online in formats that are easy to read, search, sort, or download than those filed on paper. States that offer dynamic tools for searching, sorting, and downloading data through their disclosure web sites perform best in the accessibility category.   

  • States that provide the best access to campaign finance records, in rank order, are: Washington; Ohio; Oregon; Michigan, Rhode Island and Texas (tied for 4th); California, Florida and Maryland (tied for 7th); and Illinois and Pennsylvania (tied for 10th).
  • The ten states with the weakest access to campaign finance records, in rank order from 41 to 50, are: Connecticut; Vermont; Iowa; Montana; Nevada; Mississippi; Alabama and Delaware (tied for 47th); South Dakota; and Wyoming.

Significant 2008 findings:

  • 49 states post campaign finance data on their disclosure web sites;
  • 1 state (Wyoming) does not currently make campaign finance data available online, but will begin to do so in 2010;
  • 39 states provide online, searchable databases of campaign contributions;
  • 27 states provide online, searchable databases of campaign expenditures;
  • 35 states allow campaign finance data to be downloaded from their web sites in a spreadsheet format;
  • 28 states allow campaign finance data to be sorted online;
  • 40 states post campaign finance data online within 48 hours of receipt; and
  • 41 states offer campaign data on disk.

Significant changes since 2007:

  • 1 state began posting campaign finance data online for the first time (Montana);
  • 4 states added new online, searchable databases of campaign contributions (Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia);
  • 5 states added additional search fields to their online contributions databases (Georgia, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, and Tennessee);
  • 3 states created new online, searchable databases of campaign expenditures (South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia);
  • 8 states reported posting campaign data online more quickly than in 2007 (Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Utah);
  • 5 states added the ability to sort campaign finance data online (Arkansas, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia); and
  • 7 states added the ability to download campaign finance data from their web sites (Arkansas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Tennessee).

Online, Searchable Databases

Best Searchable Databases of Contributions & Expenditures

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington
The most user-friendly tool for disclosure agencies to offer the public is an online, searchable database of campaign contributions and expenditures. Comprehensive databases allow users to search data by numerous fields (such as contributor name, employer, zip code, contribution date, and amount) and offer the ability to search across all candidates’ data, or limit the search to the records of a single candidate. Along with multiple search fields, the most user-friendly databases also offer search options like “name contains” or “name begins with”, and allow data to be to sorted and downloaded. Nine states’ databases meet all of this study’s criteria for database search options and also allow data to be either sorted or downloaded (California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington).

Search Options

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Thirty-nine states (78 percent) now offer online, searchable databases of campaign contributions, up from 27 states (54 percent) in 2003. Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia debuted new databases in the past year while Georgia, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, and Tennessee added new search options. South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia also launched new searchable databases of campaign expenses on their web sites, bringing the total to 27 states with this resource, ten more than in 2003. Of the 39 states with a searchable database, 36 allow users to either sort or download campaign finance data; of the states without searchable databases, only two (Vermont and Wisconsin) allow users to download data and none allow users to sort data online.

The presence of electronic filing programs, especially those that are mandatory, contribute greatly to a state’s ability to offer campaign finance data in formats that can be searched, sorted, or downloaded. Mandatory electronic filing reduces the number of reports filed on paper, thereby allowing disclosure agencies to dedicate more resources to data presentation, rather than data-entry. Searchable contribution databases are available in 93 percent of states with mandatory electronic filing programs, while two-thirds of states with voluntary programs offer this resource. Three of the eight states (38 percent) without electronic filing programs data-enter contributions and allow the public to search the data online (Idaho, North Dakota, and Nebraska).

Percentage of States with Online, Searchable Databases,
by Electronic Filing Status

 

Mandatory
E-Filing States

Voluntary
E-Filing States

States with
No E-Filing

Contribution Databases

93%

67%

38%

Expenditure Databases

83%

17%

0%

Mandatory electronic filing has an even more pronounced effect on states providing databases of campaign expenditures. Eighty-three percent of states with mandatory electronic filing programs also offer online, searchable expenditure databases as opposed to just 17 percent of states with voluntary programs. None of the states that lack an electronic filing program offer online, searchable databases of campaign expenditures.

Other Methods of Online Disclosure

In the absence of electronically-filed data, states can still provide online access to campaign finance data. Reports filed on paper can be scanned and posted online as PDF documents or data-entered and displayed as PDF or HTML pages. HTML displays of records are more user-friendly and easier to read than typed or handwritten reports that have been scanned and posted online. Vermont creates downloadable text files of statewide candidates’ reports, giving the public an alternative to the cumbersome TIFF files that are also available. Alabama, Mississippi, and South Dakota post copies of scanned reports online as PDF files, some of which are difficult to read due to scan quality and handwriting legibility.

Timeliness of Online Disclosure

The ability to review campaign finance reports online as they are filed is far more convenient for the public than visiting a disclosure agency or state archive during business hours to request and review paper reports. Forty of the 49 states posting campaign finance data on the web report doing so either within two days of receiving a report or within two days of the filing deadline, and all states (with the exception of New Mexico) are able to post campaign finance data on the web within a week of receipt. Eight states reported posting campaign finance records on the Internet more quickly than in 2007.

Access to Records on Paper and Disk

As electronic filing has become more common, states continue to report a decrease in requests for paper copies of disclosure reports. All states charge a fee per copy, with most between $.10 and $.25 per page, though some states fulfill small requests for copies of disclosure reports for free. Ohio offers the lowest rate at $.03 per page while Alabama and South Dakota each charge $1.00 per page, the highest in the country. Wyoming, the only state that does not publish campaign finance data online, charges $.15 per page for most copies of disclosure reports. In 2008, Iowa reduced the cost of copies mailed to requestors from $.20 per page to $.15 per page and dropped the price for copies made in person from $.10 to $.05 per page.

Forty-one states also offer the public the ability to access large amounts of campaign finance data in other digital formats, such as through email or on a CD, a format that more easily allows for large-scale analysis of several candidates’ records or all campaign committees’ reports for a given election cycle. Montana and Oklahoma reported making this option available for the first time in 2008, while Maryland and Nevada reported lower charges for data on disk than in the past.

 

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First published September 17, 2008
| Last updated September 17 2008
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Campaign Disclosure Project. All rights reserved.