While Alderman Gardiner has not been indicted, he has had his fair share of controversy in Chicago, not to mention lawsuits. Last week, the Peoples Fabric did a great piece on Ald. Gardiner and some potential issues with his quarterly filings. It is a great read, so do take a few minutes and give it your attention. There is a lot going on with it, but there are two areas that I think can trip up a lot of people who handle political financial reporting.
If you are thinking of running for office, particularly a local office, deciding who to trust with your finances is such an important step. It’s not that campaign disclosure rules are difficult – they aren’t – but the system as a whole is not the greatest.
First, having a CPA on your team is great. Having a CPA who knows how to file your disclosure forms is gold. But you need to treat professionals who work on your campaign as professionals – if you are not paying them, then the work they are doing for you is an “in-kind” donation. And there are limits to how much of a donation an individual, or a business, can donate. If I bill Bob’s campaign $50/hr to handle their books, but I do it free for Joe, then I am essentially donating $50/hr to Joe’s campaign and am subject to that limit. You need to report that information as part of your quarterly disclosures.
It is easy for in-kind donations to trip up campaigns, because you may legit have a question of how to value that work. Furthermore, if the value is greater than $1,000, you have to also file an A-1. Also, something to consider is when does the donation actually take place? If someone goes out and purchases $500 worth of office supplies for your campaign, and decides to make it a donation, then obviously the date would be when the supplies arrive and you take possession of them. However, since the donation is greater than $150, you need to itemize this, so you also need to note the date the donor made the purchase. And of course, there should be written notice of the donation made from the donor to the campaign. “I, Bob Electric, am donating $500 of office supplies that I purchased on 1/1/2021 to the campaign of Janet Wise. I am self-employed and I work as a real estate agent.”
It can seem complicated, but at the end of the day, the important thing is to document, document, document. Whether you are using financial management software or google sheets, keep a list of everything. Keep the receipts. If you have any doubts about how to enter your in-kind donation, call the BOE and ask. They are actually really helpful. They want you to report correctly.
This brings us to the second reason you should not be like Ald. Gardiner, or his late treasurer. If your treasurer or chairman resigns from your campaign, file the proper paperwork to remove them from your committee with the BOE. It’s an easy amendment to file. In this case, Ald. Gardiner did not file the paperwork. If you are that treasurer, and the campaign pulls a Gardiner and refuses to take you off their paperwork, then report it to the BOE immediately. The letter that Mr. Baumann wrote to the Board of Elections resigning from Ald. Gardiners PAC is a great example of how to do so. The problem is that he filed it recently, and the article suggests he had resigned from the campaign committee in 2019.
As far as the BOE is concerned, even if Baumann had resigned two years ago, without that letter and without Ald. Gardiner doing the right thing, Baumann was still the treasurer. He could still be called to account for anything in the disclosures for the last two years.