During a presidential election — particularly one as compelling and unpredictable as this one — it can be easy to lose track of elections happening at the state level. It can be even easier to forget about state-level campaign finance, given the truly massive amounts spent at the federal level. But millions of dollars will be spent on state and local elections this year, too, and it’s just as important to track where this money comes from.
It’s not always easy to do this, and your ability to track the sources of your elected officials’ campaign dollars can depend on where you live. Now, you can see how your state compares to the rest: The National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP) released a scorecard grading state disclosure of campaign contributions. The scores were based on the amount of contributors’ information disclosed; the timeliness and quality of the data, including availability and completeness of electronic data; and the availability of a searchable, downloadable dataset.
Many states did well at providing electronic data (something Sunlight advocates strongly for) — 31 states got full credit for mandating electronic filings for all candidates, and 36 states “earned full credit for completeness of electronic data, which includes nine states that must manually input some paper reports to build a comprehensive online database.”
But some states have a lot of catching up to do. Mississippi, for example, still doesn’t have electronic filing — candidates still file contribution reports on paper, and some of those reports are also only available for the public to view on paper. In 2016. Several other states only made non-searchable images of scanned hard copies available, and others did not provide datasets that can be downloaded, searched and filtered (like we do for federal filings on our Real-Time Influence Explorer). As NIMSP pointed out, “providing a downloadable database is the most effective means to achieve this objective, but seven states still do not have this feature on their websites. Further, at a bare minimum, all paper reports should be viewable online, yet three states fail to do so.”
Your ability to find out who’s donating to your elected officials shouldn’t depend on what state you live in. This scorecard is a reminder that it still does.
You can use NIMSP’s tool below (or click here) to see how your state scored (congratulations to readers in Maine, whose state received a perfect score). You can also filter it by measures like access to electronic data, or whether the state requires a contributor’s street address.