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T e n n e s s e e


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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 Tennessee

Tennessee's overall F grade and low rank in the study can be attributed to a Campaign Disclosure Law that is deficient in a number of important areas, a lack of electronic filing and a near-bottom rank in the category of accessibility to campaign finance data.

The law requires state-level candidates in Tennessee to file one statement before each election, and annual statements in non-election years. Candidates must disclose details about contributors who give more than $100, but contributors' occupations and employers do not have to be reported. Last-minute contributions over $5,000 must be disclosed within 72 hours. Expenditures greater than $100 must be reported, but subvendor information (such as a breakdown of credit card expenses) is not required. Independent expenditures are reported, but last-minute independent expenditures are not disclosed before an election.

Accessing campaign finance records in Tennessee is extremely difficult, and there are no filings available on the official disclosure web site. The absence of data is due to a provision of Tennessee's disclosure law that requires people who want to view campaign finance records to first complete a form stating their name, address, home and business phone numbers, driver's license number, and name of the candidate whose records they wish to view. These forms are collected by the Registry of Election Finance and made available to the elected officials whose reports have been accessed.

Tennessee is the only state in the nation with such a system for inspecting or obtaining copies of campaign finance records, and many see the “inspection notice provision” as a major barrier to data accessibility. The Registry of Election Finance itself in its 2002 annual report to the governor and general assembly recognized that the effect of the provision has been “to deter some citizens from reviewing elected officials' reports” and has urged a change in the law.

The state avoids the rank of 50 for Disclosure Content Accessibility only because the Registry publishes a report online that includes the total amounts raised and spent by all statewide and legislative candidates, giving site visitors at least one tool for gaining a better understanding of money trends in Tennessee politics. Additionally, the law requires the agency to data-enter the contents of the campaign filings, so the records do eventually end up in an electronic format and a disk is available for purchase, provided the inspection form is completed.

Relative to other states, Tennessee has good contextual information on its disclosure web site, including an explanation of the campaign finance requirements in the state, the text of the disclosure law, and a comprehensive list of candidates. The D grade in the combined contextual and technical usability category reflects the minimal amount of campaign finance data on the site, and a mid-range score in the usability testing.

Disclosure Agency: Tennessee Registry of Election Finance
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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