Brett McRae is always cleaning up after politicians.
When he was a student, he worked his way through law school as a janitor at the state House of Representatives. Now as a campaign finance consultant, the 50-year-old Charlotte man keeps elections clean.
"A person's political reputation can really be trashed by things that can be found in those filings," said McRae, "like if you were late or made a questionable expenditure or took money from someone you shouldn't have."
I don't belong to the same political party as McRae, but he's earned my respect. Guys like McRae, and his Republican counterpart at state party (who has stayed there through several chairs for obvious reasons), are the type of people that each candidate needs to talk to. Why? I'll let him say it.
"For a lot of campaigns, the financial reporting gets shuffled to the bottom of the deck," he said, even though late fees and penalties can be costly and mistakes can be politically embarrassing. "This way, the staff can concentrate on winning the election."
The worst campaign finance debacle I've seen was this, almost two years ago which I covered under. Why a good treasurer is a must. I sat on that information for two years before it was picked up by the papers. I didn't turn him in, since the state automaticly catched those who don't. The only people I told were Joe Hune's campaign who kept it quiet since there was no reason to attack. Joe was winning big, and his opponent was not running a credible campaign. I could have called the paper then, but I actually felt sorry for the guy. I don't think he knew what he was getting into.
Most candidates, of all parties, are completely ignorant when it comes to campaign finance matters. I do not mean that as an insult. Most just don't know all of the ins and outs of it. Like the candidates, I was baptized by fire when I was volunteered at 22 years old to be a PAC treasurer. I thought it was something easy. I didn't know what I was getting into. At the same time, it was one of the best things to happen to me. Today, I'm a veteran at this stuff, one of the go to guys in the party on this, and hopefully taught a few people some things as well. I'm proud of two things with my campaign finance work. I've never been fined for an error. That means I did not have any failure to files, or any late filings (nor indictments or convictions). I have not had an error or omissions notice in five years (mistakes since corrected). I still have a lot to learn, especially on federal matters, but I don't make many mistakes outside of being a little too cautious at times. I don't play games with this stuff.
I can also catch a lot of errors as well, and turned the MEA in for non-disclosure. I don't turn in everyone, even in the opposing party, but they knew better and I thought their non-disclosure was deliberate since they did not want their cards saying "East Lansing" on them.
In campaigns there are two things. There are things you can contol, and things you can't control. Campaign finance situations are things that can be controlled. THE most important thing a candidate can do is hire or get a good treasurer to volunteer for the campaign.
Michigan has full disclosure. That's something that is very important to know. There are a few people whose money I will stay the hell away from if I am running for political office. I will have a lot of explaining to do if I report donations from people like Mark Foley (obvious reasons), Josh Sugarmann (for anti-2nd Amendment views), or illegal sources. (Corporations, foreigners). Good Treasurers can screen this, and that goes double on the illegal sources.
For those interesting in running or forming PAC's, there are manuals on campaign finance laws at the Elections Division of the Secretary of State's office. Click Here for Sec of State That is a must read if you are interesting in running.
If you run, know what you are getting into on this stuff and be prepared. All it takes is one major screw up to destroy the entire campaign. As the old saying goes, "Prior planning prevents poor performance."