Wednesday, September 17, 2008

40 states pass campaign disclosure assessment; 10 fail; 26 earn higher grades

Campaign disclosure in the states is improving, according to a study the California Voter Foundation and its Campaign Disclosure Project partners released today. Grading State Disclosure 2008 shows Washington State has the best disclosure program in the nation, followed by California and Michigan. Below are excerpts from news articles published today in a number of states covering the report.

• The Detroit News: Michigan campaign finance disclosure among the nation's best, by Deb Price. Excerpts:

Michigan is one of the nation's top three states in terms of disclosing campaign finance information about statewide and legislative office seekers, a good government group reported Wednesday.

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Michigan received an "A plus" for both its electronic filing program and its ease of use.

The report praises Michigan, noting, "The Secretary of State's online, searchable databases offer excellent options for searching, sorting, and downloading campaign finance data and are accompanied by an excellent description of the data available."

• The Oregonian: Oregon ranks 4th in campaign finance disclosure, by Dave Hogan, September 17, 2008. Excerpt:

Oregon ranks fourth in campaign finance disclosure, thanks to the state's searchable online database that debuted at the start of 2007, says a nationwide study released Wednesday.

The Campaign Disclosure Project gave Oregon a B+ grade in its fifth national report, after getting a B+ and the designation of "most improved" in last year's report. Washington has ranked first in each of the five studies. California placed second in the latest report and Michigan placed third.

Tuesday's report noted that public access to state-level campaign finance data has improved dramatically due to the increase in electronic filing of campaign disclosure reports. A total of 24 states now require statewide and legislative candidates to file electronically, up from 12 in 2003. In all, 42 states permit candidates to file electronically.

• Associated Press: Alabama gets an F on campaign finance disclosure. Excerpt:

Alabama has received another "F" in an annual study of states' campaign finance disclosure laws.

The new Grading State Disclosure report says Alabama's grade has been unchanged since the annual reports began in 2003. Alabama ranks 49th among the states.

The report notes that the secretary of state's office has made improvements in the state Web site that shows candidates' campaign finance report, but there is still no online searchable database of contributions.

• Lexington Herald-Leader: KY boosts campaign finance grade, but slips in ranks, by Ryan Alessi. Excerpt:

The national Campaign Disclosure Project boosted Kentucky's grade for the state's campaign finance transparency up to a B- from last year's C+ even as it continued its slide in the national rankings.

Overall, Kentucky scored the 21st best campaign finance disclosure system in the United States, according to the project that is a collaboration by the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies, and the UCLA School of Law and is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

That is down from 20th last year, 13th in 2005 and 10th in 2004 as other states have improved their election laws that govern donations.

But the B- is Kentucky's best grade yet from the project. The improvement stemmed mostly from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance's redesigned Web site that made it even easier for citizens to navigate and search, the project's summary for Kentucky said.

• Deseret News: Utah's campaign disclosure laws lacking, by Lee Davidson. Excerpts:

A grade of D-minus usually is not cause for celebration. But when Utah received that Wednesday in an annual report card on state campaign finance disclosure systems, it was the highest grade the state has ever achieved.

"A D-minus is poor, obviously. But I think we're at least moving in the right direction," said Joe Demma, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, whose office collects and distributes data from disclosure forms. He says a new, more user-friendly system for searching that data online should be ready early next year.

The grade is for more than just the performance by Herbert's office. It is also evaluates how much information Utah disclosure laws require. And all of that was blasted in the annual report card by the Campaign Disclosure Project, which is run by a coalition of good-government groups.

"Utah earned its first overall passing grade and ranked 40th (out of 50 states) in 2008," the report said. It was ahead of 10 states that received Fs, but 24 states managed to receive As or Bs — showing Utah that it can be done.

The report gave a sub-grade of D-minus to Utah's disclosure laws. That was up slightly from an F last year because of a law passed in 2007 that requires office holders to file disclosure reports annually instead of only in election years. They now must also itemize contributions of $50 or more.

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Demma said his office also looks at reports such as the one issued Wednesday to see what other states are doing, and learn from their best practices.

"Our goal is to make everything as easy for public to find as possible. We are always striving for improvement," he said.

• The News & Observer: N.C. gets B- on campaign disclosure, by Ryan Teague Beckwith. Excerpt:

North Carolina received a B-minus on campaign finance disclosure.

In a regular report card by the Campaign Disclosure Project, the state Board of Elections received higher marks on campaign finance laws and accessibility of its Web site. Last year, the state received a C-plus, and in 2003 it received a D-plus.

The state was graded well for requiring detailed information about contributors of more than $50, including occupation and employer data, as well as vendors used by candidates.

However, it received lower marks for its electronic filing program, which is required of statewide candidates who raise $5,000 or more but not legislative candidates.
A redesign of the Board of Elections Web site was praised.

"The site offers a fair amount of contextual information, such as detailed candidate lists and a thorough campaign finance manual explaining the state’s disclosure requirements and contribution limits," the group wrote.

North Carolina was ranked 23 of U.S. states.

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