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In the criteria, significant weight is placed on the comprehensiveness of state campaign disclosure laws; this category comprises 40 percent of a state’s total grade. Good campaign disclosure laws require the reporting of detailed information about contributions and expenditures. In particular, the disclosure of some critical pieces of information – including a contributor’s occupation and employer, subvendor information for expenditures, and timely reporting of last-minute contributions and independent expenditures – all enhance the public’s ability to access campaign finance data. States require the disclosure of detailed contribution and expenditure information at varying thresholds, but the criteria did not evaluate the appropriateness of these thresholds.

Occupation and employer data for campaign contributors is crucial for categorizing donations or identifying efforts by corporations and organizations to bundle their employees’ contributions. Details of subvendor payments are important in order to increase visibility of campaign expenses charged to credit cards or made by consultants or other vendors. Reporting of last-minute contributions and independent expenditures prior to an election helps voters identify which individuals and organizations are conducting last-minute efforts to influence the outcome of the election. Strong enforcement and frequent reporting of campaign finances by candidates are also necessary components of meaningful disclosure laws. 

In the Electronic Filing category, great value was placed on whether states have mandated the electronic filing of campaign finance disclosure information. Attention was also paid to the implementation schedules being considered in states as they pass electronic filing mandates to ensure a reasonable implementation timeline that benefits the public in advance of approaching elections. The receipt of campaign finance data in an electronic format usually leads to greater availability of the information on the Internet. If data is submitted in an electronic format, the agency can post data online more quickly and in formats that allow for more meaningful analysis of campaign finance reports. Indeed, most states with electronic filing have created searchable databases of contributions and expenditures, or made data available in formats that can be sorted or downloaded. While voluntary electronic filing does lead to some expanded accessibility to campaign finance data, mandatory electronic filing is preferred because it is more likely to result in timely, comprehensive online disclosure.

The Disclosure Content Accessibility category evaluated the degree to which the content of disclosure reports is available to the public. In this category, significant weight was placed on the use of the Internet to publish state campaign finance disclosure information, based on the Project’s perspective that the Internet is the most effective and affordable way for state agencies to make campaign finance data accessible to the public. Importance was given to the scope of campaign finance data on disclosure web sites and the ways in which that data could be analyzed. This included the availability of features such as databases of contributions and expenditures that allow searching across all filers and by a number of fields. Whether states allow the public to sort data online by reordering categories of information, browse records, or download data so it can be analyzed offline, were evaluated. State disclosure sites were also evaluated for offering and explaining “smart search” features, such as partial name and “name sounds like” lookups. States’ efforts to make paper records accessible to the public, such as the ease of obtaining records from a distance, the cost of the records and the length of time it takes to obtain the records, was also assessed.

Of equal importance to the accessibility of campaign finance records was Online Contextual and Technical Usability – the degree to which state disclosure web sites are technically and contextually “user-friendly” to the public. This category was assessed through a combination of web research by Project staff and usability testing by outside evaluators. States that did well in this category were those that: have disclosure web sites that are easy to locate from the state’s homepage; provide information explaining the state’s campaign finance laws, disclosure requirements and reporting periods; provide instructions for how to access the data on the site; and give a clear explanation of which candidates and reports are online. Significant weight was also placed on the availability of analyses of campaign finance activity, which give the public a better understanding of how one candidate’s fundraising and spending compares to another, and also how campaign finance trends change over time. Also of importance in the usability category was the posting and clear labeling of amended reports, with the retention of original filings online. Being able to view original and amended reports side-by-side helps the public determine what changes have been made.

The full Grading State Disclosure criteria are included in an appendix at the end of this report.


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First published October 16, 2007
| Last updated November 17, 2007
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Campaign Disclosure Project. All rights reserved.