Every political committee must designate a treasurer before it can accept contributions or make expenditures. In fact, if a committee is ever without a treasurer, it cannot raise or spend anything until a new treasurer is appointed.
Treasurers have many specific duties and are generally responsible for a committee’s compliance with the law. If there’s an enforcement action against a committee, the treasurer is usually named as a respondent. Treasurers can be found officially (or, in some circumstances, personally) liable for the actions they take.
Designation of officers
A committee must designate a treasurer and custodian of records. The same person may hold both positions. The committee may also designate an assistant treasurer to assume the duties and responsibilities of the treasurer in the event of a temporary or permanent vacancy or unavailability of the treasurer. The names and positions of other officers appointed by the committee do not need to be disclosed.
The treasurer is not required to have any special training, but a knowledge of basic accounting principles is helpful. The treasurer may wish to obtain the services of a bookkeeper or accountant.
If the treasurer is unable to exercise their duties, an assistant treasurer who has been designated on the Statement of Organization may assume the treasurer's duties. A political committee may not accept contributions or make expenditures without a treasurer. A designated assistant treasurer may function as the treasurer until a new treasurer is designated on an amended Statement of Organization. To avoid delays in reporting and other compliance problems that could develop in the treasurer's absence, the Commission recommends that committees designate an assistant treasurer.
Custodian of records
The Statement of Organization asks for the name of the custodian of records. The treasurer may act as custodian or appoint another person. The treasurer remains responsible for keeping proper records.
Change in officers
Report any change in the information disclosed on the Statement of Organization within 10 days. The treasurer files either an amended Statement of Organization or a signed letter which includes the committee's name, identification number and information pertaining to the change. Electronic filers file the Statement of Organization electronically to report a change.
If there is a change in treasurer, either the outgoing or incoming treasurer signs the form.
A treasurer’s duties include:
- Filing all committee reports and statements accurately and on time.
- Depositing receipts in the committee’s designated bank within 10 days of receipt.
- Authorizing expenditures or appointing someone else (orally or in writing) to authorize expenditures.
- Monitoring contributions to ensure they comply with legal limits and prohibitions.
- Keeping records of receipts and disbursements for three years from the filing date of the report to which they relate.
While the treasurer is responsible for ensuring these activities are carried out, support staff, volunteers or consultants may actually perform these duties. For example, a designated assistant treasurer may sign reports in the treasurer's absence and an accountant or bookkeeper may handle recordkeeping and reporting duties. Nevertheless, the treasurer remains responsible for the committee's compliance with the law.
Compliance with FEC law
In an enforcement action, the committee's treasurer will typically be subject to Commission action only in their official capacity. When information indicates that a treasurer has knowingly and willfully violated the Act, recklessly failed to fulfill duties specifically imposed by the Act or intentionally deprived themselves of facts giving rise to the violation, the Commission will consider the treasurer subject to action in a personal capacity.
If a committee changes treasurers, the Commission may substitute the new treasurer as a respondent in the enforcement proceeding in their official capacity. If an outgoing treasurer is personally liable, the Commission may pursue them individually. The successor treasurer would be named in the official capacity.
Under the Commission's Administrative Fine Program, committees may be required to pay civil money penalties if they file a report late or fail to file a report. Committee treasurers may be liable for civil money penalties if reports are not filed or not filed on time. Commission regulations specify how penalties are calculated, how late filers and nonfilers are notified of Commission actions and how committees and their treasurers can challenge the Commission's findings.
The Act and Commission regulations do not govern a treasurer's personal liability for payment of the committee's debts. State laws govern whether an alleged debt exists and who is responsible for paying it.
While the misappropriation of committee funds is not common, the Commission has encountered a number of cases where political committee staff misappropriated funds. In addition to the difficulties committees face in discovering that funds are missing, misappropriations are often accompanied by the filing of inaccurate disclosure reports with the FEC, leaving committees vulnerable to FEC enforcement action and potential liability for those reporting errors.
To help protect committees, the FEC created a safe harbor for political committees that have certain internal controls in place to prevent misappropriations and associated misreporting.
In order to avail itself of the safe harbor, a political committee must implement these minimum internal controls:
- All bank accounts must be opened in the name of the committee using the committee’s Employer Identification Number. Bank accounts should never be opened in the name of an individual using an individual’s Social Security Number.
- Bank statements must be reviewed for unauthorized transactions and reconciled with the accounting records each month. Further, bank records must be reconciled with disclosure reports prior to filing. The reconciliations must be done by someone other than a check signer or an individual responsible for handling the committee’s accounting.
- Checks in excess of $1,000 must be authorized in writing and/or signed by two individuals. Further, all wire transfers must be authorized in writing by two individuals. The individuals who authorize disbursements or sign checks should be identified in writing in the committee’s internal policies.
- An individual who does not handle the committee’s accounting or have banking authority receives incoming checks and monitors all other incoming receipts. This individual makes a list of all committee receipts and places a restrictive endorsement, such as For Deposit Only to the Account of the Payee, on all checks.
- The committee must use an imprest system for petty cash funds, and the value of the petty cash fund should be no more than $500. An imprest system is one in which the sum of the disbursements recorded in the petty cash log since the last replenishment and the remaining cash always equals the stated amount of the fund. When the fund is replenished, the amount of the replenishment equals the amounts recorded since the prior replenishment and should bring the cash balance back to the stated amount. Only one person should be in charge of the fund.
As soon as a misappropriation is discovered, the political committee must notify law enforcement. The committee also must notify the FEC and file amended reports to correct any reporting errors due to the misappropriation.
Assistance from the FEC
The FEC website contains numerous resources to help treasurers carry out their duties.
The Commission operates a public information office to help committee staff understand and comply with campaign finance law. Call the FEC on the toll-free number, 800-424-9530, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.