Anticorruption and good governance advocates, in the United States and elsewhere, have long been concerned with the potentially corrupting influence of campaign donations and other political spending on public policy. (Indeed, although the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed political spending to be a form of “speech” protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Court has also recognized the prevention of corruption, or its appearance, as one of the few interests sufficiently compelling to justify campaign finance laws that limit such spending.) Much of the discussion of the campaign finance issue in the United States focuses on federal elections, yet concerns about the corrupting effect of campaign donations are just as important in state-level elections. State elected officials—legislators, governors, and other elected executive branch officials—play a vital role in creating and implementing public policy, and these officials decide how to spend trillions of dollars on roads, health, education, welfare, and other programs. And money continues to flow into state races in record-breaking amounts. Yet the potential for corruption—both illegal corruption and the “softer” corruption associated with undue access and influence for large donors—does not receive as much attention at the state level as at the federal level.
State-level political candidates must follow campaign finance laws written and enforced by the state, and states vary greatly in terms of the content and quality of their campaign finance systems. To highlight the variance across states in campaign finance laws, and to provide more information to voters and reformers, the Coalition for Integrity (C4I) created the first State Campaign Finance Index analyzing the campaign finance laws and regulations in all fifty states and District of Columbia. The Index assigns states scores based on several factors that, in C4I’s judgment, constitute best practices. The most important factors are as follows: Continue reading