Money in Politics More Transparent in Some States Than Others; 33 States Receive Passing Grades

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Davis, CA- As Election Day approaches, voters in some states will find it easier to follow the money than in others, according to Grading State Disclosure, a comprehensive, comparative study of candidate campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states, now in its second year.

Washington State again ranked number one in the country, followed by California and Florida. Seventeen states' disclosure programs failed the assessment, which was conducted by the Campaign Disclosure Project, a collaboration of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law. The Project seeks to bring greater transparency and accountability to money in state politics and is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“While there were still the same number of failing grades in 2004, the overwhelming majority of states did make some improvements to their disclosure programs," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which produced the study. “However, there is still tremendous progress to be made before voters across the country have equal access to the information needed to follow the money and cast an informed vote on Election Day.”

The Campaign Disclosure Project evaluated four areas of campaign finance disclosure: state campaign disclosure laws; electronic filing programs; the degree to which the public can access campaign finance information; and the usability of state disclosure web sites.

Of the 33 passing states, eight received grades in the A or B range, up from only two in 2003. Washington received the highest grade and rank, California ranked second with an A-, and Florida came in third with a B+. Among the study's significant findings:

  • States with the best overall campaign finance disclosure programs, in rank order from one to ten, are: Washington; California; Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Michigan; Ohio & Rhode Island (tied); Texas; and Alaska & Kentucky (tied).  
  • States with the weakest overall campaign finance disclosure programs, in rank order from 41 to 50, are: Nevada; New Hampshire; Montana; North Dakota; New Mexico & Vermont (tied); Alabama; South Dakota; South Carolina; and Wyoming.  
  • Tennessee was the most-improved state, climbing from 46th place to 27th place, followed by Georgia, which moved up seventeen places to number four, and California, which improved from 9th to 2nd place.  
  • Tennessee was the most-improved state, climbing from 46th place to 27th place, followed by Georgia, which moved up seventeen places to number four, and California, which improved from 9th to 2nd place.  
  • Among the four grading categories, the most improvement was found in Online Contextual and Technical Usability, followed by Disclosure Content Accessibility.

Each state was assessed, graded and ranked for its overall performance as well as its performance in each of the four grading categories. States across the country performed best in the Campaign Disclosure Law category, with forty states receiving passing grades and ten states failing. Twenty-one states passed in the Electronic Filing Program category, while twenty-nine failed. Twenty-eight states passed in Disclosure Content Accessibility, and twenty-two failed. Twenty-nine states received passing grades in Online Contextual and Technical Usability, while twenty-one failed.

“I think a number of states took last year's grades to heart and made a real effort to improve in 2004,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. "I hope the trend continues into 2005, especially among the seventeen states with overall failing grades."

Grades were based on criteria 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. The Project set a high, but not impossible, standard for state campaign finance disclosure programs. Efforts were made to balance the concerns of practitioners and government officials against the public's need for timely, complete and effective disclosure.

Assessments of each state were based on research of state laws as of December 2004, web site visits and research from January to June of 2004, responses from state disclosure agency staff and activists working on campaign financing at the state level during the same timeframe, and web site testing by outside evaluators in June 2004. State grades are a reflection of not only the work of state disclosure agencies, but also state legislatures and governors, who are responsible for enacting and funding state campaign disclosure laws. The Campaign Disclosure Project will repeat the assessment and issue a third round grades in 2005 to measure progress in the coming year.

For more information, visit The Grading State Disclosure web site that features an updated assessment of each of the fifty states, a U.S. map of the states color-coded by grade, comparison charts, and campaign disclosure statistics.

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