Thursday, October 18, 2007

News coverage of Grading State Disclosure 2007 study

The study that the California Voter Foundation released yesterday, Grading State Disclosure 2007, has been covered by news outlets across the country. In addition, the Campaign Finance Institute issued this news release highlighting the fact that while thirty states require electronic filing, the U.S. Senate still does not. Links to some of the articles and excerpts are featured below. Report ranks campaign disclosure laws, by Eric Kelderman, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

While nearly all states make detailed contribution and spending information available online, 36 states now have a searchable database for donations -- an increase of nine states since 2003. Twenty-four states also allow searches on spending, compared to 17 states that allowed that four years ago.

"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," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

The Associated Press: Alabama ranks 49th in national campaign disclosure study, by Phillip Rawls, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

Secretary of State Beth Chapman, the state's chief election official, called the ranking "an embarrassment," but she said the Legislature is the only group that can make campaign finance disclosure more thorough and transparent.

The national campaign finance study ranked Washington first, followed by California and Oregon. Florida and Hawaii tied for fourth.

The rankings are done to encourage states to make improvements that will give voters more information about who is financing campaigns.

"You need a strong disclosure law to make sure the data available to the public is timely and meaningful," Alexander said.

The Wichita Eagle: Kansas ranking falls in study of campaign law, by Dion Lefler, October 17, 2007. Excerpts:

Kansas' campaign finance disclosure laws remain among the nation's weakest, but state agencies that run the system are making it easier for the public to access the information that is available, according to a new national study.

Overall, Kansas rose from an "F" to a "D" on the 2007 study by the nonpartisan Campaign Disclosure Project.

But on campaign finance law, Kansas slipped from "D" to "D-minus," falling to 42nd of the 50 states.

That's a drop from No. 37 in the last survey, in 2005.

The project was especially critical of the state's campaign finance reporting deadlines, which allow contributions just before an election to go unreported until months later.

"A major deficiency in Kansas law is the reporting gap that occurs in the 11 days preceding a general election, hiding last-minute spending from the public until after the election," the report said.


An exasperated Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said Kansas campaign laws should score higher and would, if House leaders would allow votes on bills to strengthen disclosure requirements.

"We've dropped in disclosure? Yep, that would be us," Colloton said. "The fact that leadership in the House won't allow this to come forward I think is a travesty."


The one bill that passed that was applauded by the UCLA study group was a measure to allow candidates to file contribution reports electronically -- which is seen as a step toward closing the 11-day disclosure gap.

Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh's office is in the process of setting up a system to accept and sort those reports.

Thornburgh said he would have preferred that electronic reporting be mandatory but thinks the voluntary system can work if it is easier, faster and cheaper than filing on paper.


Kansas moved from an "F" to a "D" on its overall scorecard mainly because of improvements in online access to campaign-finance records maintained by the Ethics Commission.

The national study complimented the commission for faster posting of reports and putting more information on line.

Two years ago, Kansas scored a "C" in online usability and ranked 10th in the nation. Now it has a "B" and moved up to No. 5.

Williams credited the commission's information technology director, Janet Williams -- no relation -- for the improved Web access.

She added that the department Web site is undergoing another major overhaul to make it even easier to use.

"It's a never-ending process," she said.

The Associated Press: Montana earns 'F' for campaign disclosure; improvements expected, by Matt Gouras, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

A study released Wednesday found Montana ranked 47th in the nation for campaign disclosure, earning the state an "F." Montana is one of only two states that does not offer any online access to campaign data, such as donations made to candidates, the California Voter Foundation said.

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth said he welcomed the study as he works toward a new searchable database expected to debut on the Internet in early 2008.

"I think this group in California does a good service. It's helpful for us, it reinforces where we ought to put our attention," Unsworth said.

The Oregonian: Campaign disclosure receives high marks; Online system - National watchdogs rate Oregon's as 'most improved', by Dave Hogan, October 18, 2007. Excerpt:

In a report released Wednesday, the Campaign Disclosure Project gave Oregon a B-plus, rating it third in the country, behind Washington and California. That's up from a 24th-place ranking in 2005.

The report credited the improvement to campaign finance legislation approved during the 2005 Legislature and the new Oregon Elections System for Tracking and Reporting, or ORESTAR. The online publicly-searchable system was launched in January.

Watchdog groups have been praising the new online system and credited the Legislature, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's staff for Wednesday's high-flying grades.

"Naming Oregon in that way is totally justified," said Janice Thompson, executive director of Democracy Reform Oregon, which monitors campaign fundraising and spending. "It's pretty exciting."

The Associated Press: Nevada gets 'F' for campaign finance disclosure, by Brendan Riley, October 18, 2007. Excerpt:

The report's authors say Nevada was among 14 states that failed to meet its criteria for a satisfactory campaign disclosure program. Thirty-six states got passing grades, up from 34 two years ago.

Nevada lawmakers have made gradual improvements to campaign finance reporting standards over the years, but have failed to provide funding for major changes such as a searchable electronic database that would make it simple for people to see a candidate's source of campaign dollars.

Sacramento Bee/Capitol Alert: California ranks 2nd on disclosure rules, by Shane Goldmacher, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

California ranks second in the nation in campaign finance disclosures, according to a report today from the California Voter Foundation.

The only state to top California was Washington, which earned an A-minus in the study. California was given a B-plus, the same grade given to Oregon, Florida and Hawaii.

Overall, 36 states were given a passing grade, and 14 earned an F.

"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, in a statement. "This study helps the public determine how their state's disclosure programs compare with others, and provides resources and incentives to help states improve."

Finally, as Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is in the news for how he has been spending campaign cash, Alexander notes that California is one of only two states that do not require politicians to identify the date that an expenditure is made.

The New Mexican: Campaign-law study again flunks N.M., by Steve Terrell, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

The New Mexico Legislature has resisted proposals to require greater disclosure. Last month legislative leaders from both political parties denied that there is need for more disclosure and questioned the motives of those pushing for reform.

The coalition began evaluating states in 2003. New Mexico, which has received failing grades in the previous three studies by the coalition, was one of 14 states to get a flunking grade in the latest study.

Legislators this year tried to gut a state law requiring electronic filing of campaign finance reports. The electronic filing law is the only area in which New Mexico received a grade of "A" in the study. The Legislature passed a bill this year that would have made electronic filing optional, but Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed it.

The study noted some improvement this year in the Secretary of State's Web site -- but not enough to give it a passing grade.

"Though plans for a searchable database of campaign data were reported in Grading State Disclosure 2005, New Mexico's disclosure site still does not offer this valuable tool," the report says. "Despite the move to electronic filing in 2006, more timely access to disclosure records online has not followed," the report says. For months after the 2006 general election, the final campaign finance reports of many candidates were not available.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office has said several times that budget restraints have hampered that Web site.

Argus Leader (South Dakota): S.D. gets an 'F' for campaign laws., by Terry Woster, October 18, 2007. Excerpts:

South Dakota received a failing grade for 2007 in campaign disclosure laws from a California-based group that says changes made in the last Legislature should improve future scores.

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The grade doesn't surprise House Democratic Leader Dale Hargens of Miller, who said the state could strengthen its law. "I think we improved it somewhat this last session," he said. "We'll see how it works out. When you make changes like we did, within the next two to four years you often have to go back in and fix some problems you caused."

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"Reports can be browsed in PDF, but itemized data cannot be sorted, searched or downloaded, which is the main reason South Dakota received an F for disclosure content accessibility again in 2007," the report stated.

Nelson has said the state considered a searchable database but questioned whether the cost would be justified for the relatively limited number of filings each year.

Republican Rep. Joni Cutler of Sioux Falls asked the same question.

"What would we get that would be meaningful for the people of South Dakota?" Cutler asked. "What kind of improvements will that make, compared to the cost?"

The Olympian (Washington): PDC wins No. 1 ranking for campaign disclosure, by Brad Shannon, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

For the fourth time in as many years, the state Public Disclosure Commission ranks No. 1 in the country for campaign disclosure.

That's according to the Campaign Disclosure project, which awarded Washington an A-minus grade, tops of any state. No. 2 was California, followed by Oregon, Florida and Hawaii, all with B-plus grades in the fourth year of grading by the project.

Oregon was rated most improved in 2007. In all 14, states had flunking or F grades, 36 states passed and 21 had higher grades than in previous years.

The Associated Press: Wyoming earns 'F' for campaign finance disclosure, by Mead Gruver, October 17, 2007. Excerpt:

"Wyoming's law overall is keeping the public in the dark about disclosure data, particularly before an election," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Association, which organized the study.

However, Alexander said Wyoming's secretary of state's office seemed willing to increase disclosure, provided it got help particularly funding from the Legislature.

Wyoming's elections director, Peggy Nighswonger, said Wednesday that she was working with lawmakers on a bill that would require electronic filing of campaign finance data. The bill would go before the Legislature this winter.

"That will really bring our grade up," she said. "That's what they really knock us down on, is that we don't have a searchable database where people can see campaign finance information online."

Nighswonger said she's been advocating for years to put more campaign finance data online.

"The Legislature has not wanted to go this way," she said.

Wyoming got an "F" grade and ranked at or near the bottom in all four areas assessed:

The state's campaign disclosure law ranked 47th. The report pointed out that Wyoming candidates don't have to report their occupation or employer, and they don't have to disclose their donors' cumulative contributions.

Wyoming has no way for candidates to file information electronically. Still, the state ranked 41st for electronic filing because the bill being drafted for next year's legislative session would implement electronic filing in Wyoming in 2010.

Along with Montana, Wyoming is one of just two states that does not post campaign finance information online. In Wyoming, people seeking such data have to go to the secretary of state's office or request copies for 15 cents a page. Wyoming ranked last for accessibility to campaign finance data.

Wyoming ranked 45th for how easily people are able to find campaign information online. Even though Wyoming doesn't report campaign finance figures online, the report said the secretary of state's Web site is easy to navigate and generally offers good information.

"The public is also able to view complete, detailed lists of candidates that include the name, office sought, party affiliation as well as candidates' contact and Web site information," the report said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

36 states pass, 14 fail nationwide campaign finance disclosure assessment

Today the California Voter Foundation released Grading State Disclosure 2007, a comprehensive, nationwide study of states' campaign finance disclosure programs. 36 states received passing grades and 14 failed in this year's assessment. 21 states' grades improved since 2005, the last time the Grading State Disclosure study was conducted.

Among the most significant findings, 40 states now permit campaigns to file disclosure reports electronically; of these, 30 require electronic filing by statewide candidates, and 23 of those states also require legislative candidates to file their reports electronically. Having campaign data arrive in a digital format enables disclosure agencies to place it on the Internet where it can be accessed immediately by the public. The study found that 90 percent of states that operate electronic filing programs also provide searchable, online databases of campaign contributions; among states with no electronic filing program, only 40 percent offer searchable, online contribution databases.

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. For more details, see today's news release.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nationwide study evaluating campaign finance disclosure to be released Oct. 17

On Wednesday, October 17, the California Voter Foundation will release Grading State Disclosure 2007, a nationwide study that evaluates, grades and ranks all fifty states' campaign finance disclosure performance. The study will be online at 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.