While political campaign ethics are often an issue in large, high-profile elections, local candidates in small districts rarely need to have more than a rudimentary understanding of campaign and election law. Still, it’s good to occasionally go over the basics, and I want to take a moment to focus on a few of the political campaign laws and election ethics requirements that you’ll have to be aware of as a political candidate in a local race.
The majority of political campaign law violations that get candidates into trouble on the on the local level have to do with money and donations. Most states have specific rules regarding what candidates are allowed to accept from donors and how they should report contributions. Unfortunately, some local political candidates either don’t know about their state’s campaign ethics laws, or they choose to ignore them.
If you plan on running for office, it’s worth learning as much as you can about your state’s election and campaign laws and how they apply to your particular race. Short of reading the laws yourself, the best way to do this is to ask advice from other locals with campaign finance and ethics experience: political party leaders, former candidates and elected officials. Regardless of the size of your community, there are always a few people who know a thing or two about campaign laws, or who can point you in the right direction.
Since accurately reporting contributions and expenses are often the most difficult part of following ethics ethics laws, it’s a good idea to get someone with experience to sign on as your political campaign treasurer. While laws differ in every state, your treasurer is often allowed to sign campaign checks, take and track donations, complete your campaign finance reports and turn them into the county board of elections.
Surrounding yourself with people who have campaign experience is a great way to make sure that you follow all political campaign and election ethics laws. Don’t be afraid to ask if you aren’t sure about the proper way to handle a financial issue, since the consequences can be dire if you don’t follow the rules.
Donations and expenditures, though, are not the only things that you should be aware of when reviewing campaign laws. Requirements for political campaign disclaimers, campaign bank account management and other important elements all vary slightly from state to state, so make sure you brush up before launching your election effort.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a small campaign law violation will go unnoticed and won’t lead to any consequences. Even seemingly harmless election ethics violations (or honest mistakes) can be taken advantage of by your opponents, who might be looking for any opportunity to send bad publicity your way.
Taking the extra time to ensure that your political campaign follows your state election laws isn’t just the right thing to do as a candidate; it’s also a good way to cover all of your bases and make sure that your political opponents aren’t given the opportunity to report ethical lapses in your campaign.