Upholding the Public's Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites
Transparency is crucial in a democracy – and in a 21st century democracy, transparency means public access to information online. This report considers four key areas of transparency in the U.S. state and federal governments: campaign finance, lobbying, procurement, and public officials’ assets. The report describes the key features needed for effective online disclosure in these areas and highlights leading practices in the states.
Some information about each of the four topic areas is currently disclosed online by many states, as well as the federal government, illustrating progress on making public official integrity information readily available to the American people. However, there is wide variation within each area in the method and manner of online disclosure.
The report explains that thoughtful, citizen-centric disclosure websites share five common elements. The sites are easy to navigate; have the basic information that most users need; provide features that help users explore the data; offer more detailed information for advanced users; and allow users to download the data.
The report finds that a number of states are doing well. Colorado’s campaign finance website has a well designed interface, and its search features make it very easy for the average citizen to find information. Massachusetts’ lobby disclosure website provides the information needed to paint a clear picture by linking a lobbyist’s activities to particular legislation and recording his or her position on that legislation. However, no state has a uniformly user-friendly site.
The parallel federal accountability websites explored in the report are doing a little better than state websites overall, except in the area of financial and asset disclosure by public officials; in that area, the federal government lags behind.
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