Report ranks campaign disclosure laws
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Voters in New Jersey and Virginia will have a better view of how campaign dollars are collected and spent than those going to the polls in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi this year.
That's according to a survey that evaluates how much campaign finance data states require candidates to report and how easily that information is accessible to the public. The study is the fourth of its kind produced jointly by the nonprofits California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law. The report was funded, in part, by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which also funds Stateline.org .
Overall, the report found that states have improved access to candidates' fundraising and spending records since the last study, with 23 states requiring both statewide and legislative candidates to report their finances electronically. Only 12 states required online filing when the first study was completed in 2003.
While nearly all states make detailed contribution and spending information available online, 36 states now have a searchable database for donations — an increase of nine states since 2003. Twenty-four states also allow searches on spending, compared to 17 states that allowed that four years ago.
"Having the data arrive in a digital format enables disclosure agencies to place it on the Internet where it can be accessed immediately by the public," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
Washington, California and Oregon have the strongest campaign finance disclosure laws, according to the study. Virginia and New Jersey, both holding state legislative races this fall, were included among the top tier of states.
Louisiana and Kentucky, which also are holding gubernatorial races this year, provide an average degree of access to campaign finance data, according to the report.
But Mississippi, where voters will choose state legislators and a governor this year, was among the states with the weakest campaign finance disclosure laws, along with South Dakota and Alabama.
Montana and Wyoming, also in the lowest rated states, are the only two that do not provide any campaign finance data online.