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Alabama ranks 49th in campaign disclosure

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A nationwide study finds that it’s hard for any state to get worse than Alabama when it comes to informing voters about where politicians get their campaign donations.

The study grading states on their campaign finance disclosure programs gave Alabama an “F” Wednesday and ranked the state 49th out of the 50 states. Only Wyoming fell below Alabama.

“There are significant weaknesses in Alabama’s campaign finance laws,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation and an author of “Grading State Disclosure 2007.”

The foundation and other groups have been doing the studies since 2003, and Alabama had ranked 47th in the previous reports.

Why the drop in 2007

  • “Other states have been making improvements,” and Alabama hasn’t, Alexander said Wednesday.

    The study, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, was also done by the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA law school as part of the Campaign Disclosure Project.

    Secretary of State Beth Chapman, the state’s chief election official, called the ranking “an embarrassment,” but she said the Legislature is the only group that can make campaign finance disclosure more thorough and transparent.

    The national campaign finance study ranked Washington first, followed by California and Oregon. Florida and Hawaii tied for fourth.

    Voter information

    The rankings are done to encourage states to make improvements that will give voters more information about who is financing campaigns.

    “You need a strong disclosure law to make sure the data available to the public is timely and meaningful,” Alexander said.

    The study found that Alabama is out of step with other states because:

  • Alabama does not require candidates to disclose a donor’s occupation or employer. Thirty-one other states require this information, which lets voters know the type of contributors a candidate has.

  • Candidates in Alabama file their reports on paper rather than electronically. This prevents the state from providing a searchable database that allows voters to see if a donor is giving to multiple candidates. Thirty states have electronic filing for statewide candidates, and 23 states have it for legislative candidates.

  • Alabama does not require donations made within the last five days before an election to be reported before the election. Thirty-six other states require candidates to disclose last-minute donations.

    Without the disclosure of last-minute contributions, a candidate can wait to take a controversial donation until just before an election and then not report it until after the election has already been decided, Alexander said.

    The secretary of state uses her Web site to post the campaign finance reports of candidates for state offices. The national report said the Web site could be made more user friendly.

    Chapman said she and her staff have been working on improving the Web site since she took office in January, and the new, more user-friendly Web site will debut Nov. 1.

    “That’s the one thing we can control, and that’s the one thing you will see improvement on,” she said in a phone interview.

    The report noted that efforts to rewrite Alabama’s campaign laws failed in the last session of the Legislature. That included bills to require electronic filing by candidates and to ban the transfer of money between political action committees to disguise its source.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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