Cal-Access to be Updated in Modernization Project

On September 29, 2016, Governor Brown signed SB No. 1349 into law, beginning a project to modernize Cal-Access, the state’s online campaign finance disclosure system. This amendment to the Political Reform Act is part of the longstanding effort to address the appearance of corruption in regards to political contributions and expenditures. The thought was that reporting requirements could be used to make campaign finance transparent to the public. This in turn would expose and deter violations, and ensure that the voters were fully informed.

The existing Cal-Access system allows the public to search by candidate, committee number, contributor, and a variety of other ways. But this system, created in 1999, is aging, unreliable, and subject to frequent slowdowns. In 2011, the system went down for most of December.

The highlights of SB No. 1349 are as follows:

  • Filed data will be made available in a user-friendly, easy to understand format that is searchable online and downloadable, and can be represented in graphs and maps
  • Late contribution and independent expenditure reports will be made available for viewing within 24 hours of filing.
  • Public will be able to track contributions from a single large contributor.

The law requires the new system to be available by February 1, 2019, though this can be delayed to December 31, 2019. In the meantime, the Secretary of State is soliciting public feedback on the modernization project. Public hearings will be held on the following times and locations:

February 3, 2017
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Ronald Reagan Building
Auditorium
300 S Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA  90013
February 9, 2017
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Secretary of State
Auditorium
1500 11th Street
Sacramento, CA  95814

 

More information is available here: http://www.fppc.ca.gov/media/press-releases/2017-news-releases/advisory-feb-2017.html

The Road to the March 7, 2017 Election – Part 5: Advertising Disclaimers

This series will provide a cursory overview of the steps needed to run for local office in Los Angeles County. The information provided is not intended to be legal advice. Readers should be cognizant that other local rules may apply in addition to state law.

We will now cover the legal requirements regarding advertising. Many types of advertising are required to have a disclaimer. In general, disclaimers will say “paid for by [committee name]” and include the committee I.D. number as well. There are additional requirements as to the font size of the disclaimer or whether the disclaimer should go at the beginning or end of a television ad. The general idea is that disclaimers should be readable and understandable.

disclaimer-example

So what kind of advertisements are covered by these disclaimer requirements? It covers traditional advertising such as mass mailings, newspaper ads, television ads, radio ads, yard signs, door hangers, flyers, and business cards. As for telephone calls, disclaimers apply to paid callers and robo calls, but not to volunteer callers or calls by the candidate his/herself.

We do live in a digital age and the disclaimer requirements apply to electronic communications as well. E-mails are required to have disclaimers. But candidates should also consider adding disclaimers to other communications such as banner ads, text messages, blog posts, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Instagram posts, Google adwords, and smartphone apps. The list goes on as technology and trends rapidly change.

While a candidate can put a disclaimer on just about everything to bulletproof themselves, there are fortunately exceptions that apply to items too small to have a disclaimer. This includes campaign buttons, bumper stickers, pins, or magnets. You might also give away promotion items like pens and mugs. These too do not require disclaimers.

For more information such as requirements broken down by category, consult the applicable FPPC campaign disclosure manual.

The Road to the March 7, 2017 Election – Part 4: Spending Campaign Funds

This series will provide a cursory overview of the steps needed to run for local office in Los Angeles County. The information provided is not intended to be legal advice. Readers should be cognizant that other local rules may apply in addition to state law.

In Parts 1 through 3, we focused on various forms to be completed and deadlines to be met, as well as the significance of the public examination period. In this blog post, we’ll focus on the laws regarding how candidates can spend their campaign funds.

Limits on Spending

The rule is that expenditures must be reasonably related to a political, legislative, or government purpose.

Generally, legitimate expenditures involve typical campaign expenses such as consultants, filing fees, campaign literature and mailings.  Campaign funds may also be used to make donations to political committees and to pay for attorney expenses that are campaign related like suing for defamation (as opposed to paying for your divorce).

The opposite are expenses for personal purposes. Personal purposes might include purchase of your clothes, paying for a wedding, or buying that Lamborghini that you’ve always wanted. Candidates should generally avoid using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses.

The FPPC has created a code system that can serve as a great way to spot red flag expenses. An expense that has a code, for example “FND” (or fundraising events), is likely to comply with the spending rules. An expense that does not fit into a code should be given special attention. It does not mean that the expense is necessarily prohibited, but it does require you to specifically identify how it is reasonably related to a political, legislative, or government purpose.

Sometimes it is unclear if an expense is legitimate. It is not unusual for treasurers to ask for advice from the FPPC before any campaign funds are paid. The FPPC will respond with an opinion letter expressing their opinion on the expense. This can be a way to protect yourself if you get in trouble for the expenditure later on.

A Requirement to Report

In addition to these limits, you’ll have to report how much you spend and what you spent it on. Hence, the existence of the code system mentioned earlier. Expenditure reporting goes on the semi-annual statement you’ll have to file that was mentioned in Part 3. Not all expenditures have to be reported in detail. For expenditures of less than $100, you only have to add them all and report the total amount.

As such, it is important to keep detail records of your payments. At the very least, make sure you have the date of the payment, name and address of the payee, the committee I.D. number if applicable, and the amount of the payment. Be aware that there are additional records to maintain when you make contributions or independent expenditures through your committee.