The 2018 midterm cycle brought several noteworthy changes to the campaign finance world. These changes, rendered by a new law and two FEC Advisory Opinions, represent campaign finance adapting to the changing needs of society and candidates running for office.
But in the flurry of the final stages of a busy midterm campaign season, they may have been missed by practitioners who weren’t directly impacted. Looking ahead to the presidential cycle here’s what campaign and advocacy professionals need to know about the latest changes in federal compliance.
The Senate has (finally) gone digital.
Just like the shift in the newspaper business from print media to digital media, the last vestige of printed reports has been removed by a new law that requires Senate candidates to file their reports electronically. For a long time, Senate candidates submitted their printed reports to the Senate Office of Public Records.
The Senate would process and then forward to the FEC, who would then eventually post the reports for public consumption after internal data entry was done for data search and internal review purposes. Sometimes pages of the reports would be lost in transit or damaged along the way. Sometimes there would be discrepancies between the printed filed reports and data. Inevitably, there would be long delays between filing and posting, often due to security screening that occurs at the Senate.
Generally speaking, most other federal candidates and political action committees were required to file their reports electronically. Requiring Senate candidates to file electronically was widely praised by the FEC, compliance consultants, and members of the public. This widely requested change will provide the public with more timely access to Senate reports and provide searchability based on the data actually filed with the FEC.
Childcare is now a campaign expense.
In May 2018, the FEC acknowledged the extremely busy lives of many candidates—especially first-time candidates who juggle their personal, professional, and political lives. In an Advisory Opinion, the FEC explicitly permitted a candidate to use campaign money to pay for childcare expenses that the candidate wouldn’t have incurred, but for the campaign. In the case at hand, before running for office, a congressional candidate in New York worked from home as a consultant and took care of her children.
The candidate being on the campaign trail required full-time childcare during the week and on evenings and weekends. In the past, the FEC had allowed “occasional childcare expenses” to be paid by a campaign. This year, the FEC extended their reasoning to include full-time child care during a campaign in a similar factual situation as the one provided to them. Using campaign funds for that purpose would not be considered personal use—thus being permissible and not running afoul of campaign finance laws.
Home security isn’t personal anymore.
Last, but not least, earlier in the cycle, the FEC acknowledged the heightened political environment in which all candidates and officeholders operate. Whether it is vitriolic threats at town halls or violent threats on social media, the political environment is more dangerous than ever for candidates and members of Congress.
In response to a report from the Sergeant of Arms that there was a sharp uptick in threats to members, the FEC declared in an Advisory Opinion that members of Congress may use campaign funds to install or upgrade residential security systems as long as the systems don’t constitute structural improvements to the home. Some people might view these expenses as personal expenses. But due to the environment, the FEC deemed these to be ordinary and necessary expenses of the officeholders as long as the guidance in the AO is followed.
These three changes this cycle weren’t controversial. Most were publicly praised by many. They not only speak to particulars of campaign finance but are greater reflections of America in the 21st Century.
Brad Crate is the founder and president of Red Curve Solutions, a GOP compliance firm.