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Campaign finance laws earn Nevada grade of F

CARSON CITY — The Campaign Finance Disclosure Project has given Nevada its fourth straight failing grade because of weak campaign finance laws and practices.

In an annual update released Wednesday, the group ranked Nevada 45th among the states in 2008 because of disclosure weaknesses such as a lack of searchable databases of campaign contributions and expenditures.

The overall failing grade was based on F grades in campaign disclosure laws, electronic filing programs and content accessibility and a D-plus in a fourth category, online usability.

The report said candidates must disclose names of contributors giving more than $100, but a donor’s occupation, employer and contribution total are not reported. The state’s disclosure law ranks in the bottom four nationally.

The Nevada secretary of state’s office maintains a voluntary electronic filing program for candidates, but only about a fifth of the state’s candidates use the system.

The secretary of state’s Web site provides scanned images of disclosure reports, but some are handwritten, and none of the data can be easily sorted by computer programs, the group said. Finding a specific contribution can be difficult, the group said.

The report’s authors said Nevada was among 10 states that failed to meet its criteria for a satisfactory campaign disclosure program in 2008. Forty states got passing grades.

Several Western states got high marks in the Campaign Disclosure Project report, including Washington which, for the fifth time, had an A grade. California got an A, Utah got a D-minus, Arizona had a B-minus, and Oregon got a B-plus.

Nevada lawmakers have made gradual improvements to campaign finance reporting standards over the years but have failed to provide funding for major changes such as a searchable electronic database.

The latest improvement, in the 2007 session, was a law that requires groups lobbying for initiatives or referendums to make campaign finance disclosures to the secretary of state.

The project is a collaboration of the UCLA School of Law, the Center for Governmental Studies and the California Voter Foundation. Financial support comes from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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