Check Out the Campaign Laws and Avoid a Messy Legal Woes
This article originally appeared in Winning Campaigns Magazine.
It's election season again. You understand the importance of free media, name recognition, and fundraising potential. You have read about how the Internet has transformed politics and about the importance of a good team of professional consultants.
You have registered with the appropriate election officials. Your family and friends are behind you, and you have even started raising some money. Congratulations, you are officially a candidate, time to hire pollsters, media buyers, general consultants and really get to work.
So, who is making sure all those checks the campaign is taking in are legal? Who have you hired to make sure you are complying with the FEC? In short, while you are worried about winning your campaign and the special interests start knocking at your door, who is making sure you do not end up in the headlines next to the Congressmen Tom Delay, Duke Cunningham, and William Jefferson?
As the election season heats up, it would be political suicide for any candidate not to be concerned with the law. After all, even if you win, it's very hard to make Roll Call votes from a prison cell.
So what’s the best way to be sure you are following the law? Easy. Hire a Lawyer - and do it early in the process. Someone who knows the new contribution limits, understands the intricacies of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, and will act as your campaign's treasurer and file all of the necessary paperwork in a timely manner. In short, someone whose job it is to keep you out of jail and off the FEC's audit radar.
Where do you find such a person? If you are looking for someone who is competent in the law to hire as your campaign’s lawyer and treasurer, call your local, state, or national party headquarters. They have a vested interest in their candidates competing and staying off the front page for ethical or campaign finance lapses, and they deal with these laws every day.
Many attorney/treasurers who do this work also have a track record, so do some research and choose wisely. Pick experienced people who are trusted. Ask around. This is an important enough decision to take some time and do it right.
In addition to knowing lawyers who specialize in this area the parties also have their own resident experts who can often answer your questions immediately. In short, they can be an excellent resource. (www.democrats.org, www.gop.com, etc.).
Ok, so you have hired a competent lawyer for your campaign. But, are you done? Not quite. As the candidate, even if you have hired the best of the best, you can not afford to pass the buck when it comes to campaign finance law. There are two very important reasons for your personal involvement.
First, by law you are on the hook for any errors. Yes, so is your designated treasurer, but really, is it a comfort that you will have a friend in prison with you?
Second, if you mess up, even if you avoid the laws’ new stiffer penalties, the headlines will likely ruin your campaign, your ability to govern or your chances for re-election. Not the best way for a political career to get started.
So how and where do you get educated about the law? The good news is this too is easy. If you have questions you can always call the FEC information line (1-800-424-9530) or check their website (www.fec.gov) for the latest in changes in the regulations. The information is available to you and the FEC staff will be happy to answer your questions. They always prefer to help before there is an error that they have to investigate.
Each year the FEC also holds seminars on campaign finance issues, and publishes various resources designed to help a campaign remain compliant. Finally, the internet is a fantastic resource. Read up on the law on such informational sites as www.opensecrets.org, and www.campaignfinanceguide.org. to name but a few.
If you follow these simple rules, hire a competent attorney/treasurer, ask questions upfront, and stay actively educated about what you can and cannot do, then win or lose, you’re on your way to running a clean, legal campaign! Try it. It will be worth it in the long run!