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Lax state rules provide cover for sponsors of attack ads

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Lax state rules provide cover for sponsors of attack ads

While much criticism has been lobbed at the federal system for failing to adequately identify who is spending money to influence campaigns, 35 states have independent spending disclosure laws that are less stringent than federal election law.

In fact, in 30 states it’s impossible to total how much money outside groups are spending on campaigns, information that is mostly available when it comes to federal contests.

That’s according to a new 50-state analysis by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which graded the states on disclosure requirements for super PACs, nonprofits and other outside spending groups.

Fifteen states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin — received an “A” grade, meaning the states’ laws were at least as robust as federal independent spending requirements.

New Jersey and Virginia, states where residents will be casting votes for governor and state legislature this year, were among 26 states that received a failing grade.

The others were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.

States were graded on a 100-point scale, based on how much information is provided to the public about non-candidate organizations that buy ads, often negative and misleading, just before an election. Six states — Alabama, Indiana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and South Carolina — didn’t garner a single point in the survey.

Independent super PACs and nonprofits intent on influencing campaigns proliferated in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, adding about $1 billion in spending in federal races in the 2012 election cycle.

Report card

The National Institute on Money In State Politics graded each state by the strength of their independent spending disclosure laws through April 2013. It looked at:

  • Does the state require reporting of independent expenditures, political spending that urges voters to support or oppose a candidate but is not coordinated with the campaign?
  • Does the state require reporting of the target, the identity of the candidate who is the subject of the independent spending?
  • Does the state require reporting of position, whether the spending supports or opposes the target
  • How does the state monitor "electioneering communications" -- advertising that airs close to an election that names a candidate but does not urge viewers to vote for or against the candidate?

How did your state score?

Methodology: To calculate each state’s score, the National Institute on Money in State Politics awards points for “independent expenditures” (IEs) and “electioneering communications” (ECs). Thirty points is awarded when IEs are required to be disclosed. Ten points are awarded for identification of the targets of the spending and 10 points for whether the sponsors support or oppose the target. The same scoring pattern applies to ECs. Partial credit is given when disclosure is required in only some instances or only by certain types of filers.

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

More by Alan Sunderman

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