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Grading State Disclosure 2007: Evaluating states' efforts to bring sunlight to political money

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A fourth, nationwide assessment of state-level campaign fi nance disclosure programs has found that 36 states received passing grades, while 14 states failed to meet this study's criteria for a satisfactory campaign disclosure program. The number of states that passed the 2007 assessment increased by two over the 2005 study, and fi ndings contained in Grading State Disclosure 2007 demonstrate the continued trend of improved campaign disclosure practices at the state level as identifi ed in the previous three studies.
Grading State Disclosure 2007 evaluated four specific areas of campaign finance disclosure: state campaign disclosure laws; electronic filing programs; accessibility of campaign finance information; and the usability of state disclosure web sites.
Evidence of overall improvements is demonstrated by the fact that 21 states earned higher grades in 2007 than those received in the 2005 study. Twenty-eight states received the same letter grade while just one state received a lower grade. Since the initial Grading State Disclosure study in 2003, 30 states have improved their grades, and nearly every state has improved its methods and practices for making campaign finance data available to the public.
A significant area of improvement is in electronic filing; forty states now permit candidates to file disclosure reports electronically. The number of states requiring electronic filing by legislative and statewide candidates has nearly doubled in the past four years, increasing from 12 in 2003 to 23 today.
The study found that states with electronic filing programs are far more likely to also provide searchable databases of campaign contributions and expenditures; 90 percent of states with mandatory electronic filing programs also publish online, searchable campaign finance databases.
For the fourth time, Washington has earned the top overall ranking, again receiving the only grade in the A range. California ranked second overall with a B+, followed by Oregon (also with a B+). Florida and Hawaii tied for 4th and also received B+ grades. Rounding out the top ten ranked states in the 2007 assessment, and all earning Bs, are: Michigan (6th); Virginia (7th); Georgia (8th); Illinois (9th); and New Jersey and Ohio (tied at 10th).
An additional seven states earned grades in the B range while 13 states received Cs and five earned Ds.
Over one-third of states earned grades in the A and B ranges, seven more than in 2005. Oregon, South Carolina, New York, Colorado and Pennsylvania showed the most improvement since 2005, with South Carolina moving out of the F range for the first time. Kansas also moved out of the F range, leaving the ranks of the 14 states that did receive Fs this year. While significant improvements were achieved in many states, nearly 40 percent earned Ds and Fs.