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Executive Summary

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Grading State Disclosure 2008
Highest Ranked States
1/A Washington
2/A California
3/A- Michigan
4/B+ Oregon
5/B+ Florida
Virginia (tied)
7/B Hawaii
Missouri (tied)
9/B Colorado
10/B New Jersey

Forty states passed and ten failed in the fifth comprehensive assessment of state campaign finance disclosure laws and practices conducted by the Campaign Disclosure Project since 2003.

Grading State Disclosure 2008 demonstrates a clear and continuing trend toward greater public access to campaign disclosure data at the state level. In the 2003 study, 17 states earned Fs and just two states earned grades in the A and B range. By 2005, one less state was failing and eleven states earned As or Bs. This progress continued through to 2008 with 24 states earning As or Bs and just ten states failing. The improvements were driven by the states’ increasing use of computer technology to both collect and display campaign disclosure data.

The Grading State Disclosure series assesses state disclosure programs in four separate but interrelated areas: state campaign disclosure laws; electronic filing programs; accessibility of campaign finance information; and the usability of state disclosure web sites.

Washington has ranked first in all five Grading State Disclosure assessments, and earned an A in each of the four scoring categories in 2008. Along with Washington, California and Michigan earned grades in the A range, and 21 states earned Bs. Nine states earned Cs, and seven earned Ds. Four of the states that earned Ds in 2008 - Arkansas, Montana, New Hampshire, and Utah - improved from Fs in 2007 to passing grades in 2008. Ten states failed the 2008 assessment.

Twenty-six states earned higher grades in 2008 than in 2007 and 36 improved their grades since Grading State Disclosure 2003. Tennessee was the most improved state since 2003, with the greatest increase in points earned since the original Grading State Disclosure assessment. Montana earned the distinction of being the most improved state since Grading State Disclosure 2007.

Adoption of programs for the electronic filing of campaign disclosure reports has been a significant factor in enhancing state disclosure programs. Currently, 42 states operate electronic filing programs, 24 of which are mandatory for both statewide and legislative candidates. In 2003, just twelve states required both statewide and legislative candidates to file electronically, and 15 states did not have any electronic filing program. Electronically-filed campaign finance reports are far more likely to be made immediately accessible to the public on disclosure agency web sites in formats that are easy to read, search, sort, or download than those filed on paper. Of the states with mandatory electronic filing, 93 percent also have online, searchable databases of campaign contributions while only 38 percent of states with no electronic filing program provide such access.

Significant 2008 findings:

  • 31 states require candidates to disclose the occupation and employer of their contributors;
  • 36 states require timely reporting of last-minute contributions;
  • 44 states require independent expenditures to be reported;
  • 30 states require statewide candidates to file disclosure reports electronically;
  • 24 states require both statewide and legislative candidates to file disclosure reports electronically;
  • 12 states operate a voluntary electronic filing program for candidates;
  • 8 states have no electronic filing program;
  • 49 states post campaign finance data on their disclosure web sites;
  • 39 states provide searchable databases of contributions online; and
  • 27 states provide searchable databases of expenditures online.

Significant improvements since 2007 include:

  • 1 state added independent expenditure reporting requirements (South Dakota);
  • 1 state added a non-election year campaign finance disclosure filing (Utah);
  • 1 state added a mandatory electronic filing program for legislative candidates (South Carolina);
  • 2 states added voluntary electronic filing programs (Kansas and Montana);
  • 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);
  • 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);
  • 2 states added or made improvements to summary campaign finance information on their web sites (Arizona and Hawaii); and
  • 4 states expanded the scope of campaign finance information available online to include both original reports and clearly labeled amendments (Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, and South Carolina).

Grading State Disclosure 2008 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-level campaign finance disclosure programs. The Campaign Disclosure Project is 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. Grading State Disclosure studies are comprehensive, comparative assessments of candidate campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states. Grading State Disclosure 2008 presents findings from a fifth round of state evaluations and provides an overview of nationwide trends as well as state-by-state summaries.

Grades were based on criteria developed prior to the 2003 assessment 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 2007, surveys of state disclosure agency staff, web site visits and online research from February to June of 2008, and web site testing by outside evaluators in April 2008.

Grading State Disclosure 2008 features a written summary of every state, its overall grade and rank, category grades and ranks, and suggestions for “quick fixes” that would improve online disclosure in the state. Since this feature debuted in the 2005 report, one third of the states have made improvements that reflect a “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 2008 “editor’s picks” is included as an appendix to this report. In addition, states receiving an A or B grade are listed on an “Honor Roll”, and the most improved states are also featured in a report appendix.

 

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First published September 17, 2008
| Last updated September 17 2008
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