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Caution – Creative Campaign Bookkeeping in Progress

Now that the 2013 4th quarter has ended, the process of disclosing fourth quarter campaign finance activity begins, often with the help of creative accounting and public relations.

On December 31st, the Federal Election Commission expected political candidates and committees to close their financial books and file a disclosure report by January 31st. However, committee treasurers are continuing to clean up their records and craft a public relations strategy for when and how to release their results.

The clean up also permits time for a staff person to run a political review of the filing. They may remove early entries that came from impermissible sources, or from sources that may not be politically correct. A contribution that appeared fine in early October may not look the same in January. A donor whose occupation is listed as “hedge fund financier” may be changed to “investment banker,” or a donor listed as “toxic waste company owner” may be changed to “waste mgmt. co. owner.” The same applies to how disbursements are described. Some may change the description of the purpose of the disbursement, such as from “limousine rental” to “car rental.”

Figures released before the actual filing of the report, really can’t be double checked, so releasing only a few figures may be beneficial. The committee may release some great receipt figures, but fail to mention that most of the funds came from the candidate, large transfers in from other committees, or from a bank loan. The committee may also fail to release a figure on how many refunds were made or what they have in outstanding debts. Just a receipt figure does not detail how much came from small contributions, from large contributions, from PACs, from other members of Congress, or from those out-of-state donors.

Many treasurers take these actions in the week before the end of the quarter. This permits them to make financial decisions and then move money before the books close. This might involve beefing up their receipts by transferring in large amounts from other committees, delaying paying certain bills, or reducing their loans outstanding.

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