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Disclosure Content Accessibility

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Twenty-six states earned grades in the A and B range in the Disclosure Content Accessibility category in 2007, with 13 states in each grade range. Ten of the eleven states in the A range in 2005 again earned As in 2007 and were joined by three additional states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania that had previously received Fs in this category. Two states moved up into the B range (Louisiana from a C and Oregon from an F) and Georgia dropped into the B range after having earned an A- in 2005 in this category. One state earned a C in 2007 and seven states earned grades in the D range, including three states (Connecticut, Kansas and Minnesota) that improved from Fs in 2005. A total of 16 states received Fs in 2007, down from 24 Fs awarded in this category in the first year of the Grading State Disclosure study in 2003. Currently, Montana and Wyoming are the only states that do not post any campaign finance data on the Internet, and continue to rank at the bottom of the Disclosure Content Accessibility category.

  • States that provide the best access to campaign finance records, in rank order, are: Washington; Hawaii; Texas; California, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Rhode Island (all tied for 4th); Maryland and Pennsylvania (tied for 9th); and Maine.
  • The states with the weakest access to campaign finance records, in rank order, are: Iowa, Nevada and West Virginia (tied for 40th); Arkansas and Mississippi (tied for 43rd); Alabama and Delaware (tied for 45th); South Dakota; New Hampshire; Montana; and Wyoming.

Significant 2007 findings:

  • 48 states post campaign finance data on their disclosure web sites;
  • 2 states have no campaign finance data available online;
  • 36 states provide searchable databases of contributions online;
  • 24 states provide searchable databases of expenditures online;
  • 28 states allow campaign finance data to be downloaded from their web sites in a spreadsheet format;
  • 25 states allow campaign finance data to be sorted online;
  • 33 states post campaign finance data online within 48 hours; and
  • 39 states offer campaign data on disk.

Significant changes since 2005:

  • 3 states began posting campaign expenditures online for the first time (Kansas, Minnesota and South Carolina);
  • 1 state began posting campaign contributions online for the first time (South Carolina);
  • 4 states added online searchable databases of contributions (North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Carolina);
  • 4 states added online searchable databases of expenditures (North Carolina, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania);
  • 3 states increased the number of fields that can be searched in their online databases (Georgia, Idaho and Kansas);
  • 7 states post campaign filings to the Internet more quickly than in 2005 (Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Tennessee and Wisconsin);
  • 5 more states allow campaign data to be sorted online (Connecticut, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon); and
  • 1 more state allows data to be downloaded (Oregon).

With South Carolina’s move to post campaign finance data online in 2006, there are now 48 states with online disclosure data. All 48 states offer itemized contributions on their campaign disclosure web sites, either within reports or through searchable databases. Additionally, itemized expenditures can now be found on 46 sites as Kansas, Minnesota, and South Carolina enhanced their web sites with this information since the publication of Grading State Disclosure 2005.

Searchable, Online Databases

Among the states that post campaign data online, 36 provide searchable databases of campaign contributions. Twenty-four of those states also provide the public with searchable databases of campaign expenditures. North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania each added databases of contributions and expenditures to their sites since the 2005 study and, as noted above, moved their grades in this category out of the F range.

Comprehensive databases offer a wide range of search fields (contributor name, employer, zip code, amount, date, etc.), search options (“name contains” or “sounds like” searches), and typically present results that can be viewed and sorted online or downloaded and analyzed offline. States that provide online databases are more likely to allow data downloads and online sort options; over 90 percent of the states that allow the public to download or sort campaign data online also publish campaign finance databases. Only two states that lack online databases (Vermont and Wisconsin) allow data to be downloaded and one state that lacks a database (New Mexico) allows data to be sorted online.

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Demonstrating the positive effect that mandatory electronic filing has on access to campaign finance data online, 90 percent of states that have a mandatory electronic filing requirement offer the public searchable databases of contributions that can be searched by numerous fields. When candidates are required to file electronically, disclosure agencies are able to dedicate more attention to data presentation, rather than data-entry. By comparison, just half of the states with voluntary electronic filing programs offer searchable, online databases. Four of the ten states without electronic filing programs (Idaho, Kansas, North Dakota and Nebraska) data-enter contributions and offer searchable databases for public use.

States with mandatory electronic filing programs are also much more likely to provide online, searchable databases of campaign expenditures than states without a mandate. Nearly three-quarters of states with mandatory electronic filing offer searchable databases of campaign expenditures, while just two of the ten states with voluntary filing programs provide this resource. Searchable databases of campaign expenses are not available in any of the ten states that lack electronic filing programs.

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Other Methods of Online Disclosure

States without electronic filing programs make records available to the public in a variety of ways. Some scan paper reports, some data-enter records from paper reports and some do a combination of both. Data-entered HTML displays of records are the most user-friendly since typed or handwritten documents that are scanned and posted online can be difficult to read. Vermont allows users to view and download information from text files, allowing site visitors to bypass the more cumbersome, scanned TIFF files that are also available. Even with the easier-to-view PDF file format utilized in Alabama, Mississippi and South Dakota, the report contents can be difficult to decipher depending on the quality of the scan, as well as the legibility of handwritten reports.

Timeliness of Online Disclosure

Posting campaign finance data online significantly contributes to the public’s ability to make informed decisions at the polls. Online disclosure records are accessible to anyone from any place at any time, unlike paper records which are available only at limited locations and times. Of the 48 states posting campaign finance data on the web, 33 states provide public access within 48 hours of receipt and the remainder provide online access to reports within a week. Some disclosure agencies withhold electronically-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. Seven states reported adding campaign data to their site more quickly than in the past, while six states reported slightly slower posting times than in 2005 (possibly due to increased filings in 2006 statewide elections).

Access to Records on Paper and Disk

As the majority of states provide online access to campaign disclosure reports, many have reported a decrease in the number of requests for paper copies. Most states charge between $.10 and $.25 per page for paper copies of disclosure reports. The lowest price is in Ohio at $.03 per page; the highest price is charged in South Dakota and Alabama, at $1.00 per page. The two states that do not currently post campaign finance data online are at the low end of the price range, with Montana at $.10 per page and Wyoming charging $.15 for most copies. Delaware ($.50/page) and Michigan ($.25/page) reported higher prices than in 2005, by $.25 and $.03, respectively. 

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 large-scale analysis of several candidates’ records or all campaign committees’ reports for a given election cycle. Thirty-nine states now offer the public campaign data on CD or via email, up from 36 in 2005, with Connecticut, Delaware and Louisiana adding this option.

 

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First published October 16, 2007
| Last updated November 17, 2007
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Campaign Disclosure Project. All rights reserved.