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P e n n s y l v a n i a


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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 Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's average disclosure law is the high point of campaign finance disclosure in the state, with scores in the areas of Electronic Filing, accessibility to data, and web site usability in the D and F range.

Pennsylvania law requires candidates to file two reports before each election, plus an annual report in non-election years. Candidates must disclose details about contributors who give $50 or more, and occupation and employer information is required for contributions over $250. Last-minute contributions of $500 or more must be disclosed within 24 hours. Every expenditure must be disclosed, but subvendor information is not required. Independent expenditures are reported, as are last-minute independent expenditures of $500 or more. Pennsylvania has voluntary electronic filing for both statewide and state legislative candidates and offers a web-based filing system free of charge.

Pennsylvania has significant room for improvement in its efforts to make official campaign finance information accessible to the public in a meaningful way. Reports for all statewide and legislative candidates are posted on the Department of State's web site within a few days of being filed and go back to 1998, but they can only be browsed, not searched. Considering the amount of electronic data on the site, it is surprising there are not more options for analyzing it online.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to the official disclosure site. Since 1994, Pennsylvania State Representative Greg Vitali, a strong advocate for online disclosure of campaign finance data, has published a web site at with a database of campaign finance records for statewide and state legislative candidates. The purpose of Rep. Vitali's effort is to demonstrate the ease and low cost of posting such information online, and he has vowed to maintain his web site until the state adds similar functionality to its official site.

For those without access to a computer, viewing reports in person or asking for copies of the reports from the disclosure agency are the only options for obtaining campaign finance information. Unfortunately, paper records are difficult to access given the requirement that a request to view the records be made in writing, and it may take one to two weeks to get copies.

Pennsylvania did well in the usability testing, reflecting the testers' ability to easily find the official disclosure web site and locate itemized contribution data online. The Department of State site uses clear terminology and provides good descriptions of campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements in the state, but lacks other important contextual information. For example, reporting periods are not included in the body of the campaign finance reports on the site, making it difficult to determine the time periods of each filing. There is no “data history” description to explain exactly whose reports are online and there are no lists of the total amounts raised and spent by state candidates. Amended reports are made available and are clearly labeled, but in cases where amendments have been filed the original filings have been removed, making it more difficult for site visitors to determine which information has changed in the newer filing.

Disclosure Agency: Department of State
Disclosure Web Site:

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This page was first published on September 17, 2003
| Last updated on September 17, 2003
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