Grading State Disclosure 2003 Logo Graphic

Landmark Study Grades And Ranks States on Campaign Finance Disclosure

33 states receive passing grades;
Washington State has top-ranked program in the country

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For Immediate Release
on Wednesday, September 17, 2003

For additional information, contact: Saskia Mills or Rachel Zenner at (530) 750-7650;

Sept. 17, 2003 -- Thirty-three states' campaign disclosure programs received passing grades according to Grading State Disclosure, a new, comprehensive, comparative study of candidate campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states. The report is online at:

Washington State received top honors for its program, which ranked number one in the nation, followed by Illinois and Massachusetts. 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 are signs of progress and some innovative practices in states across the country, our study found that a vast majority of the states still have significant room to improve their campaign finance disclosure,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which produced the study. “Better campaign disclosure is needed to ensure that the public can follow the money and make informed voting choices as well as more easily determine which groups may be receiving greater access in the halls of state government.”

The Campaign Disclosure Project evaluated four areas of campaign finance disclosure: state campaign disclosure laws, which set the disclosure requirements about what campaign data must be publicly disclosed; electronic filing programs, which enable states to publish accurate, timely and comprehensive data online; the degree to which the public can access campaign finance information; and the usability of state disclosure web sites.

Of the passing states, only two received grades in the A or B range. The top-ranked state, Washington, received an A- and the second-ranked state, Illinois, received a B. Among the study's significant findings:

  • Twenty-nine states require donors' occupation and employer data to be disclosed; five states require only employer; two states require only occupation; and 14 states do not require either occupation or employer data for donors to be disclosed.
  • Forty states require independent expenditures made to support or oppose a candidate to be disclosed, but only 23 states require such expenditures that are made immediately before an election to be disclosed prior to the election.
  • Twenty states require candidates for state office to file disclosure reports in an electronic format, while 16 states have voluntary electronic filing programs and 14 states have no electronic filing.
  • Twenty-seven state disclosure web sites feature online databases of campaign contributions; 17 sites offer databases of expenditures.

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 38 states receiving passing grades and 12 states failing. Nineteen states passed the Electronic Filing assessment while 31 failed. Twenty-six states passed in the Disclosure Content Accessibility category and 24 failed. Twenty-three state disclosure web sites received a passing grade in Online Contextual and Technical Usability, while 27 failed the assessment.

“We were surprised to find that states that performed well in one or two of the categories, often performed very poorly in the other categories,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

Grades were based on criteria created 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 legal research, web site visits and research, web site testing by outside evaluators and responses from state disclosure agency staff and activists working on campaign financing at the state level. The legal research was conducted from July 2002 through March 2003 and was based on state laws as of December 31, 2002; web site research was conducted from January to June 2003. State grades are a reflection of the state legislature and governor, who are responsible for enacting and funding state campaign disclosure laws, as well as the work of the state agency, such as the Secretary of State, that is responsible for implementing laws and making campaign data available to the public. The Campaign Disclosure Project will repeat the assessment and issue new grades to measure progress in future years.

“For thirty years states have experimented with campaign disclosure,” said Daniel Lowenstein, professor at the UCLA School of Law. “But many states have fallen behind the rapid changes in technology. The role of money is sometimes hidden from the public or less quickly available than it should be. Through the grades, the Project hopes to encourage states to make progress toward better disclosure.”

The Grading State Disclosure web site features the 2003 report, an assessment of each of the fifty states, a U.S. map of the states color-coded by grade, comparison charts, and a page of campaign disclosure statistics. Click here for a chart of the 50 states along with their disclosure rank and grade.

For additional information, contact: Saskia Mills or Rachel Zenner at (530) 750-7650;

For further information about the Project's legal research, please contact:

Joe Doherty, UCLA School of Law: 310-206-2675;

Bob Stern, Center for Governmental Studies: 310-470-6590 x117;


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This page was first published on September 17, 2003
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