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Campaign Disclosure Law
Electronic Filing Program
Disclosure Content Accessibility
Online Contextual & Technical Usability

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The State of Disclosure in Ohio

Ohio does a great job of making campaign finance data accessible to the public, and its ability to do so is in part due to its mandatory electronic filing law. High scores in both categories contribute to Ohio's high rank in the study, which might have been even higher if it were not for an average disclosure law and a web site that is lacking in the area of Online Contextual and Technical Usability.

Ohio's disclosure law requires candidates to file annual reports in non-election years and two reports before each election. Details about all contributions, except those under $25 that were collected at political fundraising events, must be disclosed. Occupation and employer information must be disclosed for contributors giving over $100. Last-minute contributions of $2,500 or more ($500 or more for Supreme Court candidates) must be reported within two business days, but this requirement does not apply to legislative candidates. All expenditures (not including subvendor details) must be reported, and for expenditures of $25 or more a copy of the canceled check or receipt must be attached to the report. Independent expenditures must be disclosed, but there no last-minute independent expenditure reporting.

Electronic filing of reports is mandatory if a candidate reaches a threshold of $10,000, but legislative candidates can opt-out until March 2004 by paying a data-entry fee. The Secretary of State provides free web-based filing, and also accepts filings via e-mail in an approved standard filing format.

The Secretary of State's disclosure web site makes it easy to research the campaign finance records of candidates in the state. The comprehensive site includes a database of contributions with the option of searching on a number of key fields including contributor's name, employer and zip code, contribution date and amount. A searchable database of expenditures is equally user-friendly and rich in data; records in both systems go back to 1990 for statewide office candidates and 1995 for state legislative candidates. The agency's unique Campaign Finance File Transfer Page was developed “to allow users to obtain large sets of data faster than the normal query process” and offers pre-queried files — such as all contributions by all candidates in a given year — that are updated daily. Detailed and helpful instructions answer most of the questions site visitors might have about either the databases or the pre-queried files.

While it can serve as a model in the area of data accessibility, the contextual usability of Ohio's disclosure web site could be improved. Some things are done well; for example, the site uses clear terminology, provides a good explanation (called “data history”) of which reports and data are online, and adequately describes campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements in the state. However, there is no overall summary information comparing total amounts raised and spent by different filers, so it is difficult to get a good idea of how one candidate's fundraising might compare to the rest, without spending a lot of time downloading and analyzing the data. Also missing from the report indexes and reports themselves are the timeframes of each report (which are described elsewhere on the site, but would be more helpful if featured with the data.)

Despite some of the site's shortcomings, Ohio did well in the usability testing. Some researchers, however, had difficulty locating the disclosure agency's site from the state homepage, and some didn't make it past the File Transfer page to the searchable databases. In years past, the site was found to be extremely slow, which happily is no longer the case for most site visitors; those with older computers or slower connections may still find it hard to access the data.

Disclosure Agency: Secretary of State
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This page was first published on September 17, 2003
| Last updated on September 17, 2003
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