Political Parlor Tricks: Fundraising Reporting Fun!

Right about now, just about anyone running for office, from Mosquito Abatement District Commissioner to Governor is sending out pleas on Twitter, Facebook, email, smoke signal, etc. begging for money. You see, we’re hitting up against a “reporting deadline” whereby after today, most candidates will have to account for money raised and spent up to this point. Hence the e-begging and so on.
The Press, as usual, will peruse these, and based on how much money is reported, will declare who is a “viable” candidate. Predictable, yes. Accurate? Not necessarily.
That’s because virtually every campaign (with the exception of those run by vain plutocrats) plays a little game with the reports. What they’ll do is often ask staff to hold off being paid, or find vendors willing to wait a day past the deadline to get their bills paid. Why, you ask? Simple. By not showing that money as being spent they can show it as “cash on hand.” Then, when The Press reports how much “money” they have, it looks like they have more than they really do. Trust me when I say this goes on way more than you might think.
It’s a cheap trick, kinda like using wide ruled paper to make your report in school look longer than it is, or bumping up a font on that term paper. However, it is a tried and true way to make you look good, and The Press always falls for it. They can’t help it – the next reports won’t be filed for months.
Quarterly reports and the like are so 20th century. Instead, if people want to do public disclosure of money raised and spent, they should be filed electronically every week, and put online within days, and that way this kind of nonsense ends. More importantly, if you wanna drill down and see who is getting money from who, and whom they might be spending it on (vendors, consultants, pollsters, ad agencies, etc.) you’d find out a lot sooner.
As it stands, “disclosure” just means more money for the specialty lawyers and accountants who can deal with this bureaucracy legally, while the voter remains uninformed.
San Francisco has some unique twists on this, especially regarding spending limits, public financing, and so on, but that gets its own blog post.

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