State and Local Governments Can Enhance Campaign Finance Transparency

 I testified last week at a hearing of the District of Columbia Council about ways to strengthen campaign finance transparency. The council, which is D.C.'s legislature, is considering a number of campaign finance reform bills in the wake of recent scandals.

My message to the D.C. Council was that transparency should be part of any reform approach that the District pursues. As I pointed out, "Transparency deters corruption, exposes abuse if it does occur, and empowers voters to hold public officials accountable."

I also discussed the results of our March report, Upholding the Public's Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites. The report examines state and federal transparency websites and notes five practices that make them work well:

  1. Offer easy ways to navigate the site
  2. Deliver basic information that most users need
  3. Provide features to help users explore the data
  4. Offer detailed information for journalists and researchers
  5. Allow users to download the data

In addition, I highlighted a provision of one of the bills before the council that would require electronic reporting of campaign finance information. Collecting information electronically is a helpful reform, because it makes it easier to reuse the information in databases and online tools. Moreover, it can be more efficient, make the data available more quickly, and reduce data quality errors.

It's important to remember that the rules for state and local campaigns are mostly written by the states, not the federal government. There's a lot that state and local governments can do to enhance campaign finance transparency, starting with the ideas in our report.

Image by Flickr user thisisbossi, used under a Creative Commons license

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