Political Campaigns: The Treasurer's Role

Article excerpt

Money is essential in a political campaign in order to carry out the campaign strategy. And CPAs are especially well suited to assist the candidates of their choice manage their finances. The role of campaign treasurer or finance committee chair offers practitioners a number of benefits, including the chance to help improve their communities, influence the political process and expand their own knowledge. In smaller races it also can be a very visible job, but no matter what the size of the campaign, it is always a most important one.

Taking on this role offers tremendous personal and professional rewards. The one civic effort that has probably contributed the most to my career was the involvement in 1972 as campaign finance chair and treasurer in Bennett Johnston's successful. U.S. Senate race here in Louisiana. That position in tile campaign put me on a first-name basis with influential people in the community who may have been 20 or 30 years older but who were in effect working for me as we raised money for our candidate. I made a lot of friends who realized I was more than just a number cruncher--and the firm ended up getting a lot of business through that first campaign. I didn't get involved in that race hoping to make business contacts--I did it because I liked the candidate. Thus, CPAs who take part in the election process for civic-minded reasons will find the effort can provide many unexpected benefits.

WHAT IT TAKES

This article focuses on the treasurer's role, but in smaller campaigns, one person may serve as both treasurer and finance committee chair. Let's discuss each role separately. The finance chair should be a person of impeccable honesty, with a strong commitment to the candidate, and should be both prominent and respected by potential contributors. The chair should be well organized and able to assemble and motivate an effective campaign finance committee. That person should be a leader who can gently apply peer pressure to each of the finance committee members to honor their commitments. The chair should know the donor's potential; for example, it is important to categorize possible donors, since it is a critical mistake to ask a potential $1,000 contributor to give $100. The chair's responsibilities include forming the fundraising strategy and establishing certain ground rules for the type of fundraising events. Besides coordinating these events, the chair is responsible for adhering to the campaign strategy and, in particular, keeping the campaign out of debt, if the finance committee has decided to be debt-free. Probably the biggest responsibility is knowing when to say no.

The campaign treasurer must have many of the same attributes but also should be extremely familiar with all pertinent campaign finance laws and disclosure. Campaign finance rules are sometimes fairly complex and certainly are different for federal as opposed to state or local elections. Each state has a different set of rules, although many are comparable to those of other,states as well as to Federal Election Commission guidelines.

Treasurers also must be able to Stand their ground. For example, except where budgeted, expenditures should not exceed campaign revenues. This is a simple statement but a very complex issue. As the campaign gets closer to election day, the treasurer can come .under tremendous pressure to exceed budget and to borrow money to finance "necessary" expenditures for success. At the end of a close race, the candidate, political advisers and public relations consultants may make recommendations that were not agreed on at the outset of the campaign. The treasurer must be the kind of person who can withstand this pressure and defend the original budget if funds are limited. (The candidate also should be urged not to incur personal debt.)

Depending on the size of the campaign, the treasurer may have a staff to assist in recording contributions and paying bills. The treasurer, campaign chair and candidate not only must be committed, but also must pull together for a successful election. …