Some Friendly Advice for First-Time Candidates for Public Office
Congratulations on your decision to run for public office! Seeking elective office can be exciting and rewarding.
But . . . I have known candidates who have ended their campaigns only to find themselves saddled with thousands of dollars of fines and late fees, and burdened with public agencies demanding that reporting deficiencies be remedied. It breaks my heart to see these things happen to people who just wanted to make a difference by helping our communities, state and nation to overcome the challenges facing them.
So I am offering this advice to you, the first-time candidate. If you follow my advice, you can avoid many of these problems.
- Establish your committee, bank account and financial procedures before you start raising or spending money.
- Makes copies or scans of every check you receive and every check you issue.
- Choose your treasurer or finance director carefully. You need someone who is good with numbers, detail-oriented and willing to insist on following proper financial procedures. Get someone who will commit to the job for the entire campaign.
- When raising money, remember that you will have to account for every penny raised, including your own money, and that none of it should come from prohibited sources.
- Always be sure to obtain occupation and employer names and addresses for anyone who contributes more than $100 during the course of the campaign. Ask contributors to include their business card with their contribution.
- Discourage cash contributions.
- Always have a trusted third person checking the work of the treasurer to ensure it is accurate and complete.
- When making expenditures, every dollar must be accounted for, and you must be able to make a straight-faced argument that the expenditure somehow promotes your candidacy.
- If you are running for a judicial office, be sure to review Canon 7 of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct.
- Using the internet to raise money can be very successful and cost-effective, but remember you must account for all funds raised through that medium.
- Never fail to file a campaign finance report, or file it late. Late fees start immediately and add up quickly. Ignorance of reporting requirements, incompetence in maintaining records, or inability to use electronic reporting systems will not be accepted as excuses for filing late or not filing at all.
- Learn what 'late contributions' are, when they must be reported, and how to report them.
- Some candidates who lose their elections then forget or fail to file the post-election report. Don’t make this mistake. If you lose the election make sure to file all remaining reports and dissolve your committee properly.