Candidates, Hug Your Treasurer

By Adam Pagnucco.

Political campaigns have all kinds of characters in them.  There are the campaign managers, the best of whom are data nerds, bartenders, therapists and trouble shooters all at once.  Then there are the hard core supporters, always ready to insist that their candidate is the reincarnation of Mandela and eager to pounce on dissenters online.  There are the cross-eyed pundits, tossing out great gobs of bloggy drivel onto an unsuspecting populace.  And of course there are the candidates, their toothy daytime smiles concealing roiling anxiety in the dead of night.

But no one pays attention to the true MVPs of political races: the Treasurers.  Money is the lifeblood of all campaigns and these are the people who control it.  Without a competent Treasurer, a campaign can’t collect its money, pay its bills, file its reports or do much of anything at all.  And the workload is often far greater than anyone, even the candidates themselves, can ever understand.

I was a Treasurer once.  Senator Rich Madaleno asked me to assume that role for the District 18 slate back in 2008.  It was not the first nor the last dumb thing I have done for a politician I like!  The account records (actually, the disorganized piles of random papers) were delivered to me in shoe boxes.  Shortly afterwards, I began receiving notices from the State Board of Elections that the previous report filings were deficient and needed to be corrected.  But the state didn’t say what the flaws were.  Phone calls to the state offices were laughably useless.  So I had to reconstruct every single transaction in the history of the account(!!!!!) and re-file every single report that had ever been sent in.  This required weeks of agony, but dammit, no account with my name on it was going to get fined.  Even bloggers have standards!

Dear future candidates: don’t ever ask me to be a Treasurer again.  I would rather gargle cockroaches.

This year, the normally substantial challenges of being a Treasurer are compounded for a uniquely unfortunate subset of them: the Treasurers responsible for MoCo’s public campaign financing accounts.  The reason is that the state requires evidence of a contributor’s in-county residency before approving public matching funds for that contribution.  That’s easy to do with online contributions: all a campaign has to do is add a couple fields illustrating residency and collecting a digital signature.  But what happens if a dinosaur (like, say, your author) pays with a written check?  Well folks, that’s when the fun begins!

All contributions eligible for matching funds must be accompanied by proof of residency that is provided to the state.  For physical checks or cash, that means the donor must complete and sign a written form indicating residency in Montgomery County.  Somebody (that might be you, Mr. or Ms. Treasurer!) has to make sure that form is filled out and collected.  If a check or cash shows up in the mail, that means tracking down contact information for the contributor and getting hold of them.  “Thank you for contributing to Politician X, ma’am.  Could you fill out and sign this form showing that you live in MoCo and send it back to us?”  “Well, I’m out of stamps and my scanner is busted.”  “I’m out of the country for two weeks.”  “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”  “I just donated to you.  Why are you bugging me?  I want my money back!”  And these are the G-rated responses.

Campaigns love this like they love tarantulas in the shower.  One campaign surrogate says his campaign “absolutely hates it” when they get paper checks because of the time required to chase down donors.  One candidate with prior electoral experience estimates that the time taken to deal with these administrative issues is 40% greater than it is under the old traditional system.  Another candidate simply says, “Oy.  Vey.”  And again, these are the G-rated responses.

Nothing can be done to remedy these issues in the short term.  And let’s remember: the state is within its rights to demand proof of residency to prevent mistaken distributions of public matching funds.  But candidates in public financing must absolutely do one thing.

Hug your Treasurer.  Do it today!  Tell them you love them.  Or it might be YOU who has to chase down those donors!