The Ethics Advisor

Thirteen Things You Need to Know About Campaign Restrictions

Ya no aguanto.
Can we POSSIBLY get away from campaigning and politics for a little while?
Sorry folks, pero, no. Puntada.

With the 2016 Presidential election campaign in full swing, and the constant barrage of tweets, posts, headline stories, evening news specials, and Goodness-knows-how-else we all receive our daily [over]dose of la política, there really is no way to escape this year.

But don’t let all the noise fool you. Local elections and campaigns are likewise about to heat up now that filing deadlines for many local races have come and gone. Here are the top 13 things to remember when embarking on local elections and campaigning.

  1. First, remember the rules apply to almost anyone running and anyone supporting someone running for office in California. This means the candidate her- or himself, a campaign committee, a general purpose committee, a political party committee, a slate mailer organization, a major donor, or any other person or entity making independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate or ballot measure.
  1. By “the rules,” we mean the Political Reform Act, which generally requires candidates and committees to file campaign statements by specific deadlines AND any local rules or ordinances that your local jurisdiction might have adopted. Click here to see if your local agency has a special campaign ordinance.
  1. Those statements generally will include contributions and expenditures made on behalf of the candidate or ballot measure.
  1. What makes a “committee”? There are 3 ways a person or entity becomes a committee:

– Receive contributions of $2,000 or more per year for political purposes (Recipient Committee); includes candidate controlled committees; committees primarily formed to support or oppose candidates or ballot measures; political party committees; and other general purpose committees.

– Make at least $1,000 worth of independent expenditures per year (NOT in consultation, cooperation or coordination with a candidate) on behalf of a candidate or ballot measure (Independent Expenditure Committee).

– Make at least $10,000 worth of contributions per year to or at the request of a candidate or ballot measure proponent (Major Donor Committee); can be a business, individual, or a multi-purpose organization (including a nonprofit organization).

  1. Paperwork and deadlines matter. A cursory Google search over the past couple of months will reveal examples of candidates who have faced intense public scrutiny and harsh penalties from the FPPC for missing deadlines and/or failing to properly disclose contributions and expenditures. The FPPC warns that “missing a filing deadline can have serious consequences ranging from monetary penalties, failure to be listed on the ballot, or FPPC enforcement action.”
  1. Filing deadlines vary, and are set forth regularly by the FPPC on its website. For example, candidates running for local office on the November 8, 2016 presidential election ballot must file their First Pre-Election Form 460 (if you have a controlled committee and plan to receive and/or spend more than $2,000 during the calendar year) or 470 (if you don’t have a controlled committee and don’t plan to receive or spend more than $2,000 during the calendar year) no later than September 29, 2016. The Second Pre-Election statement must be filed no later than October 27, 2016.
  1. Candidates for local office typically file with their local elections official, usually the City Clerk for municipal-run elections or the County Registrar of Voters for county-run elections.
  1. While the State has specific contribution limits for various State offices, there is no generally-applicable state law that imposes campaign contribution limits on local offices. Instead, many local jurisdictions have adopted their own contribution and/or expenditure limits.
  1. You must reveal the true source of any contribution of $100 or more (in the aggregate over a calendar year) on your Form 460. If a contribution is received through an intermediary, both the intermediary and the true source of the contribution must be identified. Failure to disclose the true source of a contribution is considered campaign money laundering, and a serious violation of law. For example, it is illegal for an employer to “reimburse” an employee for a political contribution made in the employee’s name, as the employer would be considered the “true source” of the contribution.
  1. Anonymous contributions of $100 or more are prohibited. Additionally, neither a committee nor a candidate may accept cash contributions of $100 or more.
  1. Do not ask individual employees of your agency for political contributions. Government Code section 3205 prohibits a local candidate from knowingly, directly or indirectly, soliciting a political contribution from any employee of his or her agency.
  1. Do not use public funds or public resources for your campaign. This means not only agency moneys, but also agency offices, telephones, computers, copiers and other equipment and staff time.
  1. You’re not in this alone.  There are many resources available to assist you in complying with campaign finance laws and regulations. The FPPC has an online Toolkit and Campaign Disclosure Manual that answer many questions and the Institute for Local Government offers valuable resources “to help you run a clean and ethical campaign.”

Good luck on the campaign trail!

Ruben Duran: The Ethics AdvisorRuben Duran
Follow me on Twitter @BBKRubenDuran
(213) 787-2569

Ruben Duran is a partner in Best Best & Krieger LLP’s Los Angeles office. He has counseled elected officials for nearly 17 years and offers training throughout California on good governance and ethics. A former city attorney, he is a regular speaker for the California Institute for Local Government and serves as the general counsel to the Oxnard Harbor District, which owns and operates the commercial Port of Hueneme.




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