By California Voter Foundation
36 states pass, 14 fail, 21 earn higher grades
Access to state-level candidate campaign disclosure data continued to improve in states across the country, according to Grading State Disclosure 2007, a comprehensive evaluation of campaign finance disclosure laws and programs in the 50 states. The 2007 study, released today by the California Voter Foundation, found that Washington State ranks first in the nation in campaign disclosure, while Oregon ranked as the most improved state in 2007. The study is the fourth in a series, which was first conducted in 2003, and is online here.
The assessment was conducted by the Campaign Disclosure Project, which seeks to bring greater transparency and accountability to money in state politics. The 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.
"Access to campaign finance data enables voters to make informed election choices and hold politicians accountable," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "This study helps the public determine how their state's disclosure programs compare with others, and provides resources and incentives to help states improve."
Washington State ranked number one in the country for the fourth time in 2007, followed by California and Oregon. Overall, 36 states' disclosure programs earned passing grades in the 2007 assessment, while 14 states' disclosure programs received an F. Twenty-one states' grades improved overall since the 2005 assessment. A list of states' grades, in rank order, is attached.
A significant area of improvement is in electronic filing; 40 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 twelve in 2003 to 23 today. The study found that states with electronic filing programs are far more likely to also provide online, searchable databases of campaign contributions and expenditures.
"Having the data arrive in a digital format enables disclosure agencies to place it on the Internet where it can be accessed immediately by the public," Alexander noted.
The Campaign Disclosure Project evaluates, grades, and ranks each state in four categories: campaign disclosure laws; electronic filing programs; public access to campaign finance data; and disclosure web site usability.
In 2007, 18 states earned grades in the A or B range, up from eleven in 2005, and only two in 2003. Thirteen states received Cs, five received Ds and 14 received Fs in the assessment.
Among the study's significant findings:
• States with the strongest campaign disclosure programs are: Washington, California, Oregon, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey and Ohio.
• States with the weakest campaign disclosure programs are: Delaware, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Dakota, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Alabama and Wyoming.
• Oregon was the most improved state, climbing from 24th to 3rd place, followed by South Carolina, which jumped from 49th to 33rd. Colorado, New York and Pennsylvania also showed significant improvements. "That nearly half of the states earned higher grades in 2007 shows that state disclosure agencies take their responsibilities very seriously and are actively working to provide better access," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. "However, it is important to recognize that state legislatures have the greatest impact on strengthening access to campaign data. Without comprehensive campaign disclosure laws in place, agencies are limited in what they can offer the public."
Each state was assessed, graded and ranked for its overall performance as well as its performance in each of the four grading categories. States performed best in the law category, with 44 receiving passing grades and six failing. Thirty states passed in the electronic filing category; 20 failed. Thirty-four states passed in both the data access and web site usability categories, while 16 failed.
The Campaign Disclosure Project sets a high, but not impossible, standard for state campaign finance disclosure. Grading criteria were developed by the Campaign Disclosure Project partners, the project's advisory board and a panel of expert judges, who also assisted with the grading process. In developing the criteria, efforts were made to balance the concerns of practitioners and government officials with the public's need for timely, complete and effective disclosure.
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 is available in print and online, and features a summary of each state's performance, a nationwide overview of state disclosure laws and practices, and charts, graphs and maps illustrating state disclosure performance. The Project's web site also features a database of state disclosure laws and a model disclosure law.