Grading the States on Disclosure

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Campaign Disclosure Project, a collaboration of the UCLA School of Law, the Center for Government Studies, and the California Voter Foundation, just released their fifth-annual nationwide study that grades and ranks each state on their level of campaign disclosure.  The study, found that, over the past five years, states have made great strides in increasing electronic filing of campaign disclosure reports, leading to new levels of openness and transparency at the state level. Kim Alexander, CVF’s president, said that electronic filing has a direct impact on how useful that data is online.  “State disclosure agencies are far more likely to present campaign finance data in ways that allow the public to search, sort, and download the information when disclosure reports are initially filed electronically in a digital format,” she said. We at Sunlight obviously agree, and it’s the argument we are making to the U.S. Senate.

The study ranks each state in four categories: campaign disclosure laws, electronic filing programs, public access to campaign finance data, and disclosure Web site usability. The report also gives advice on how the states can make improvements. States did better in the disclosure law and Web site usability categories, with 45 passing and five failing in each, according to their press release. Thirty passed in the electronic filing category while 20 failed. Thirty-six states passed in the data accessibility category and 14 failed.

In the 2008 assessment, 40 states earned a passing grade and ten failed. Twenty-four states earned grades in the A or B range, up from just two awarded five years ago. Thirty-six states have improved their grades since 2003 and 26 improved over last year’s assessment. The driving force behind the improvements has been the increase in the number of states requiring that candidates file disclosure reports electronically. Twenty-four states now require both statewide and legislative candidates to file electronically, up from twelve in 2003. In all, 42 states permit candidates to file electronically, 30 of which require electronic filing by some candidates.

Washington State is at the head of the class by earning an A in this year’s study, as well as being ranking first in each of the five studies.  Also receiving top grades this year were California and Michigan. Tennessee is the most improved state over the past five years, while Montana improved the most over the past year.

The Pew Charitable Trusts supported the study.

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