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17 Tips for Running Your Campaign Committee

Liane Randolph was chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission from 2003–07. She can be reached at liane.randolph.pra@ gmail.com.

About Legal Notes

This column is provided as general information and not as legal advice. The law is constantly evolving, and attorneys can and do disagree about what the law requires. Local agencies interested in determining how the law applies in a particular situation should consult their local agency attorneys.


Now that you've decided to run for office, you need to know the basics of running a campaign committee. This article provides a short overview of the requirements of the Political Reform Act.

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is the state agency charged with administering and enforcing the Political Reform Act. During the years that I served as chair of the FPPC, I interacted with some officials who got in trouble simply because they didn't take the time to learn the rules. So before you begin your campaign, review this list of 17 important points, and familiarize yourself with the many resources the FPPC makes available to candidates.

1. Get the right information. California 's Political Reform Act requires candidates running for local and state offices to disclose campaign funds received and spent. Study the FPPC Campaign Disclosure Manual 2: Information for Local Candidates, Superior Court Judges, Their Controlled Committees, and Primarily Formed Committees for Local Candidates. You can obtain the manual from your city clerk or download it from the FPPC website at www.fppc.ca.gov.

If you still have questions after reviewing the manual, you may call the FPPC toll-free advice line at (866) ASK-FPPC. You should also plan on attending a campaign seminar. The FPPC website provides dates and locations for these seminars. If one is not scheduled in your area, contact your filing officer or call the FPPC.

2. Form a committee. Before soliciting or accepting any contributions and before using any personal funds to start up your campaign, file a Form 501, a Candidate Intention Statement. Despite this restriction, you may still use personal funds to pay filing or ballot statement fees prior to filing a Form 501.

3. Are you planning to raise or spend $1,000? Once you've raised or spent $1,000, you will need to file a Form 410 and get a committee identification number from the FPPC. If you plan to raise or spend less than $1,000, you may be eligible to file a candidate's short form statement in- stead (Form 470). Your Form 410 must be filed within 10 days of qualifying as a committee (the date you received contributions totaling $1,000 or more). If you qualify as a committee during the last 16 days before your election, you must file the information required on Form 410 within 24 hours.

4. Open a campaign bank account. On Form 410, you will need to provide information about your campaign bank account. You must open an account in a financial institution located in California. All contributions must be deposited in this account, and all expenditures must be made from this account. The same applies to any of your personal funds used for campaign activities.

5. Designate a treasurer. You must identify a committee treasurer on Form 410. Every committee must have a treasurer, but there are no restrictions on who this person may be. A candidate may act as his or her own treasurer. Both the candidate and the treasurer are legally responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the campaign reports.

6. File your reports accurately and on time. Your committee will file a Form 460, Recipient Committee Campaign Statement, disclosing all money, loans, goods and services received, as well as expenditures made in connection with the campaign. The deadline and place of filing depends on the date and location of your election. In most cases, Form 460 is filed at least twice before the election. FPPC regulations do not allow for the filing deadlines to be extended, and fines may be imposed for filing statements late. All campaign reports are public documents, and your city clerk or other filing officer has a duty to review them and request amendments, if needed.

7. Report late contributions. The law requires 24-hour reporting of contributions received in the 16-day period before the election (the "late contribution period"). If you receive monetary or non-monetary contributions totaling $1,000 from a single contributor during this period, you must file a late contribution report with your city clerk or other filing officer. This includes contributions of your own funds of $1,000 or more.

8. Contributions are more than just money. Contributions can be money in the form of cash, checks, credit cards or wire transfers. But contributions can also include non-monetary items like goods, services or discounts, loans, a candidate's personal funds or assets used to support his or her campaign, or a written promise from a third party to pay for specific goods or services. There are exceptions for volunteer personal services and for fund-raisers held in someone's home or office where the total cost of the event is $500 or less.

9. Keep good records. The law requires you to maintain detailed records for contributions and expenditures of $25 or more. You should retain the original source documentation (bills, receipts and bank records, for ex ample) in the event of an FPPC audit. In most cases, you should keep your records for four years.

10. Accept no more than $100 in cash. You may not accept or spend more than $100 in cash. For contributions of $100 or more, including loans and in-kind contributions, you must disclose the contributor's name, address, occupation and employer. Contributions of $100 or more must be in the form of a written instrument containing the name of the donor and the name of the payee. The contribution must be drawn from the donor's account. You may not make expenditures of $100 or more in cash, but you may keep a petty cash fund to pay for incidental expenses as long as no more than $100 is in the petty cash fund at one time.

11. Track expenditures made by others. You are required to itemize expenditures of $500 or more made by an agent or consultant for the campaign.

12. Identify the candidate or committee on mailings. You must include your name and campaign address in at least 6-point type on the outside of all mass mailings of more than 200 pieces. Your committee's name may be used if it includes your name. If your name is not part of the committee's name, you may use just your name, or both your name and the name of the committee. The sender identification requirements do not apply to lawn signs, billboards or other campaign materials that are not sent through the mail.

13. Avoid "laundered" campaign funds. It is against the law for a person to make a campaign contribution in another person's name. For instance, it would be a violation of the law for an employer to ask his or her employee to make a contribution in the employee's name, and then agree to reimburse the employee unless the true source of the funds (the employer) is disclosed. A person may use an intermediary to transmit a campaign contribution, either by collecting funds from others and writing a single check or by reimbursing others for contributions, if both the intermediary and the true source of funds are disclosed.

14. Don't use your campaign funds for personal purposes. You may use campaign funds only for political, legislative or governmental purposes. The expenditure of campaign funds must be reasonably related to a political, legislative or governmental purpose. Any expenditures that would confer a personal benefit of $200 or more on an individual must be directly related to a political, legislative or governmental purpose.

15. Notify your large contributors. If you receive $5,000 or more from a single contributor in a calendar year, you are required to send the contributor a notice that the contributor may be required to file campaign reports as a major donor. The notice is not required if the contributor is another campaign committee.

16. Check the local rules. Some cities have adopted lo-cal campaign finance rules, such as local contribution limits or electronic reporting requirements. You should check with the city clerk about local rules. You must comply with those rules in addition to the Political Reform Act. The FPPC cannot advise you about local rules, and any questions you have regarding local rules should be submitted to the city clerk.

17. Caution! Beware of Government Code section 84308. Most campaign contributions do not pose a legal conflict of interest, but there is an important exception. Government Code section 84308 applies to appointed officials who are collecting campaign contributions. If you are a planning commissioner or other appointed official and you are running for office, you should read the FPPC's fact sheet titled "Campaign Contributions May Cause Conflicts for Appointees and Commissioners," which is available on the FPPC website.

This article is merely a short overview of the Political Reform Act requirements. Consult the FPPC website for more in formation, or call (866) ASK-FPPC. They are ready and able to help you navigate this often challenging area of the law.