Politics is not something you want to avoid when decisions that affect the long-term viability of your industry are in the hands of legislators hundreds or thousands of miles away – or even just down the street. But, walk carefully if your company decides to get involved in supporting political candidates or issues.
Here are a few words of caution as you navigate your way through these treacherous waters.
1. Your best bet is to set a policy and follow it carefully. First identify just how close to home you are willing to get involved? Your strategy should be based on the regulatory bodies that have the greatest influence over your industry. Financial institutions usually focus on State and Federal issues, while a contractor may be more interested in Regional and Local races, which may have influence over future land-use or code issues.
2. If you decide to become substantially involved (financially) in politics, be sure you have someone in your company that understands the rules set forth by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC for those readers in California – other states have similar bodies), and your Local Registrar of Voters.
3. Track your company donations carefully. If your total donations hit certain limits, the FPPC may require you to report your activity as a Large Donor, or similar. Don’t lose track of your total donations – they can add up quickly. So, if you do contribute, be sure you are aware of Local, State, and Federal regulations, reporting cycles, and limits. A missed report, or accidental “disallowed” contribution can lead to embarrassing, and sometimes costly, penalties.
4. Here’s a good tip: Knowing what contribution levels are reportable (line-item-level) by the candidates, and exceeding that level, will ensure you are on their detailed filing reports. (In other words, you are on their radar.) Use this to your advantage if you want the candidate to know you forked out some of your company or personal monies to help them with their election. On the flipside, if you don’t want your name forever listed in state, federal, and regional databases – stay a few dollars below the limits. Trust me, people track the money – from, to, how much, and when.
Final words, do your research before you write any check to ensure it is 1) legal; 2) aligns with your companies strategies; and 3) if it triggers any reporting – complete the paperwork “on time”. And don’t forget – these donations are NOT tax deductable.
For further information, I recommend you contact your industry’s Trade Association, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (www.fppc.ca.gov), or the Federal Election Commission (www.FEC.gov). They all have access to the right resources, and are more than willing to assist you with your contribution questions. When in doubt – seek advice. Let me rephrase that – “seek advice first”, and stay out of the news.
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