TO: CVF-NEWS FROM: Saskia Mills, CVF Executive Director DATE: July 19, 2002 RE: Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation report
A new report about ballot measure campaign finance disclosure was just released by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that tracks ballot measure activity and contributions in the U.S.
The report, titled "The Campaign Finance Reform Blind Spot: Ballot Measure Disclosure", concluded that varying reporting and disclosure practices in the fifty states has resulted in "a growing financial blind spot in American politics." BISC studied state disclosure laws and state agency web sites, and then graded each state based on the quality of its information; California recieved an "A" grade.
The full report, news release, and state-specific results are all available on the BISC web site at http://www.ballot.org/blindspot/. The California news release is included below.
-- Saskia Mills, Executive Director
California Voter Foundation
firstname.lastname@example.org, (530) 750-7650
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Galen Nelson, (617) 734-1313
Wednesday, July 18, 2002
CALIFORNIA RECEIVES AN "A" IN NATIONAL STUDY GRADING BALLOT MEASURE DONOR DISCLOSURE
New Research Identifies Campaign Finance Reform "Blind Spot"
Washington, D.C.-- Every election cycle, voters decide on hundreds of ballot measures with little or no knowledge of the groups or individuals backing the initiatives. The Campaign Finance Reform Blind Spot: Ballot Measure Disclosure, a new national report released today by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) Foundation, finds that the varying quality of state online disclosure contributes to a growing financial blind spot in American politics. California is one of only four of the 24 ballot initiative states that received a grade of "A" or "B" (Washington, Massachusetts and Illinois were the other states), 17 states received "Dís" or "Fís" and 4 states received "Incompletes" for failing to disclose any data online.
"In a state in where simply qualifying a ballot measure can cost more than $1 million, voters deserve a stellar quality ballot initiative disclosure program," said Galen Nelson, author of the report and director of Ballotfunding.org, a project of the BISC Foundation. "Cal-Access is one of the best disclosure resources in the country, though the agency could address some disclosure access and clarity problems on its website." BISC Foundation applauds the California Voter Foundation and other reform organizations that have worked with Cal-Access to improve initiative donor disclosure for all California voters.
While McCain-Fiengold sharply limited soft money, it did nothing to help disclose the millions of dollars fed into state ballot initiative campaigns each year. During the 1998 election cycle alone, ballot initiative campaigns outraised political candidates two-to-one, racking up $400 million in donations. This gap is only likely to grow as former soft money donors look to ballot initiatives as new donation shelters. Contributions themselves are not in question. Courts have repeatedly struck down laws limiting contributions to ballot measures. The problem is that weak and inconsistent state disclosure laws make it easy for wealthy interests to fund their agendas unbeknownst to the voting public.
"It's encouraging to see California ranking near the top in terms of disclosure of ballot campaign funding," said Derek Cressman, Democracy Program Director for the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG.) "But, given the importance of the initiative process in California, we should be doing even more to let voters know who is behind ballot campaigns."
Blind Spot assesses state disclosure agencies' ability to adequately disclose ballot measure donor data through their websites. The assessment criteria included: filing requirements, data quality, voter access, and data format. The findings show that by failing to present donor data on their websites in a timely nature and accessible format, many initiative states make it difficult for journalists, activists or interested citizens to research funding sources of initiative campaigns.
Disclosing detailed initiative donor data in timely fashion is essential for voters to gain insight into the economic and special interests at stake in each ballot question. Studies show voters depend heavily on organizational endorsements and an awareness of the chief funders of a ballot measure effort when casting their vote.
"Voters have a right to know who is bankrolling ballot initiatives affecting their communities," said Nelson. "And the government has a duty to remove barriers to this information by mandating full disclosure."
Highlights of The Campaign Finance Reform Blind Spot: Ballot Measure Disclosure:
The Cal-Access site, a service of the California Secretary of State's Political Reform Division, is an excellent ballot initiative donor disclosure resource. The donor database has multiple search and sort options and the raw data can be downloaded. Ballot committees are organized by initiative, there is excellent summary and historical data; and electronic filing is mandatory for committees raising over $50,000 (this threshold may be lowered to $10,000, although it is unlikely that an initiative could get off the ground in California for less than $50,000). Cal-Access is planning to provide a free online filing program by January 2003.
Improvements that need to be made:
- California needs to address some disclosure access and clarity problems on its website
- Summary data is difficult to find, separate from the main database under ěPolitical Reform Pageî
- Though voters can search donor data by initiative and sort by multiple criteria, search options for ballot measure data could be expanded.
Survey data for Blind Spot was gathered from February - May 2002. On-line disclosure practices were evaluated based on extensive phone interviews with disclosure agency staff, evaluation of statutes governing donor disclosure, thorough investigation and "test driving" of state disclosure websites and additional web-based research.
Founded in 1999, the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation is a national, nonpartisan, educational policy center based in Washington, D.C. with an office in Boston, Massachusetts that tracks ballot measure activity and contributions, trains individuals to work on ballot initiative campaigns, and facilitates greater understanding and strategic use of the initiative process. To view the full report, please visit www.ballot.org/blindspot
For more information, contact:
- Galen Nelson, director of Ballotfunding.org, at (617) 734-1313
- Derek Cressman, Democracy Program Directory, CALPIRG at (916) 448-4516 or
Steve Blackledge at (916) 448-4516
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This page was first published on July 19, 2002 | Last updated on July 19, 2002
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