The Role of the Campaign Treasurer
Lori Le Jacobs
Once upon a time in the world of elections and political campaigns, the guidelines for state election committees consisted of one thin manual covering all state election rules. Local jurisdictions may have had ordinances in place, but these were casually enforced and perhaps casually obeyed.
Not any longer! The state Fair Political Practices Commission is currently updating its Manuals A-F, and in the process has created separate manuals for statewide candidate committees and local candidate committees. In San Diego County, where we are based, both the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego have recently updated their ordinances, and both now have special enforcing and interpretation units. Campaign committees at all levels are well advised to know the rules and regulations pertaining to them, and pay them heed, as fines for non-compliance are regularly assessed and can be sizable.
The days of the volunteer bookkeeper/treasurer have clearly passed.
Most committees now rely on their Treasurer for guidance in complying with governing election law on day to day matters. Treasurers must be up to date on the rules pertaining to their committees, and the applications to many common situations. For example, what are the disclosure requirements on a mass mailing? Can a state PAC accept contributions in excess of the calendar year limits? Can a membership association circulate a ballot measure petition to its membership without making a contribution to the ballot measure committee? Are living trust checks considered a personal or an entity contribution under state law; under local law? And endlessly on.
Today, the committee Treasurer is still responsible for establishing the local or state committee with the California Secretary of State and the federal committee with the Federal Election Commission. The Treasurer also maintains the committee checkbook, reconciles to the bank account and financial reporting software used for recordkeeping, accepts receipts for deposit and makes disbursements. Other duties include recording loans, in-kind contributions and accrued expenses; providing financial updates to the committees as needed, gathering required contributor information and preparing and filing required disclosure reports (filing electronically, as required). Additionally, the Treasurer normally maintains the audit files for the committee, consisting of the back up records required for all of the above transactions. Oh yes, and long after the campaign is over (and hastily forgotten or fondly remembered by the candidates, workers, consultants, fundraisers and/or sponsors) – the Treasurer responds to audit requests and sees the (sometimes long-closed) committee through the audit process.
Our office has served as Treasurer for hundreds of local, state and federal candidate committees, political action committees and ballot measure committees. We take pride in our work, although most of it is campaign-supportive in nature and takes place behind the scene. Maybe the slogan of the professional Treasurer should be: “Behind every well organized campaign, look for us”. We are happy to be there.