Tuesday, November 24, 2015

(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Grassroots Campaign Finance Compliance

One of the most important things we can do to keep our democracy safe from the undue influence of money is track where campaign spending comes from - even for small amounts.

If you’re giving directly to a campaign or PAC, you don’t have to worry about that, they have you covered. But, if you’re doing your own awesome thing and being a leader in your community, pay attention!

A lot of spending by individuals and small groups get lost because it isn’t reported. Each time we fail to report, the hard work and commitment of individual donors is lost, depriving them of a voice, and politicians of the real picture of American activism.

Worse yet, people are turned off from participating because the laws to help make our system transparent scare them off.

But reporting to the FEC is easier than you think. This post will break down when it’s required and how to do it. Step by step.

Assumptions: To make things simple, we’ll be giving you the instructions for the most common scenario on BernSpark:
  • Supporting a single Federal Candidate (state campaign finance requirements vary).
  • Independent expenditure(s) which have no input from a candidate or campaign.
  • You activities total less than $10,000.
  • Only raising contributions from individuals.
If you’re doing any one of these things differently, reach out to us! Ok, let’s go!

Scenario 1: You spent $250+ but less than $1,000
You don’t have to file with the FEC, but they want to know what’s going on. Namely, who contributed, how much and what you bought.

There is one step
  • Fill in Form 5 (below) online or mail a signed letter with contributor and expense info to the FEC.
If you did your funding on ShiftSpark or BernSpark, we can send you a document with the relevant information. All you have to do is mail that in with your signature and list of expenses.

Here’s the mail-in version with instructions added. For reference, here are the FEC instructions.

Scenario 2: You raised OR spent $1,000+
In this case, the FEC does want you to file; but it’s really no big difference.

There are Four steps
  • Open a bank account anywhere. This is pretty easy and it’s probably the hardest part.
  • Register your PAC. You can do it online or with this form.
  • Report who gives you money and what you buy with Form 3x (below).
    • At the end of each Quarter (Jan 31, Apr 30, Jul 30, Oct31)*.
    • 12 days before the Primary and General elections
  • Close your PAC when you file your last report.
If you raise and spend your money within one quarter (like many BernSpark projects which raise money all at once) then you only need to file one report. At the end of the report just check the box “Termination Report” under “Type of Report” and you’re done forever!

If you spend money but don’t raise any, or vice versa, you just fill in the relevant information and report that each quarter.

Below are the the mail-in versions of the Registration form and Reporting/Termination form with instructions added.

Finally, when collecting contributions you must ensure the following (done automatically by the ShiftSpark or BernSpark system):
  • You collect employer and occupation info
  • Only collect money from U.S. Residents (Green Card holders) or Citizens give
  • No Federal contractors give
  • People are using their own money
That’s all! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at, @sh1ftspark or


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