By Benjamin A. Katz
While good campaign management software can make it easier to file FEC reports , there are some things you should do regardless of how good your software is. A few simple checks will help keep you out of trouble and avoid the need to file amendments of FEC reports.
1. Read the manual.
All manuals and more are provided for you online at http://www.fec.gov
However, no software can manage all the rules for you -- you need to make sure you're very familiar with campaign finance law.
2. Know the calendar.
Don't get caught off guard about when FEC reports are due. The FEC's calendar is available online: http://www.fec.gov/info/report_dates.shtml but we recommend printing it out an attaching it to your wall. Nothing's worse than getting fined just because you weren't paying attention.
3. Don't wait until the last minute.
In fact, we recommend entering transactions into your campaign software on a daily basis. This makes it easier (and much less) stressful to generate and file reports when they're due.
4. Review your FEC report well before it is due.
Many of our clients will run dummy FEC reports in the middle of the quarter. If you have quality campaign management software, it will assist you in finding and correcting errors but even without your software helping you, this will give you a chance to review your report and start making corrections without the stress of the deadline.
5. Compare every new filing against the previously filed FEC report.
At the very least, make sure your starting cash-on-hand matches the ending cash-on-hand from the previous report. Even better, check each column to make sure that your cycle-to-date totals are correct.
6. Reconcile your bank account against your FEC report.
There is no way to file an accurate FEC report unless you're reconciling. Ideally, your campaign management software will support reconciliations. If not, you should do this manually.
A word of warning -- FEC reports are neither wholly cash nor wholly accrual based. -- especially with the requirement to report undeposited funds. It can often difficult to reconcile FEC reports with bank statements by hand. That said it's still much less painful than filing amendments or getting hit with fines.
7. Use Common Sense.
Take a look over your report. Does it show several hundred thousand dollars too much? Are PACs getting reported on line 11a(i) rather than 11c? Has someone given well in excess of the limits? Do you not remember that check being quite that large?
It's easy to make mistakes but with a little bit of time and a clear head, you can often solve them before the FEC sees them.
Benjamin A. Katz is founder and President of CompleteCampaigns.com,
a company providing web-based tools to political campaigns,
PACs and similar organizations. He has been involved in the political
industry and has worked as a campaign manager, fundraiser, accountant
and volunteer coordinator. He can be reached at CompleteCampaigns.com.