advice from a fake consultant

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Rosemary’s Weekly Campaign Memo: Don’t Ever Misdial The FEC

It’s been an active couple of weeks as Rosemary Candidate (the potted plant that’s challenging both Republican “Ineffectual Dave” Reichert and “Generic Democratic Opponent” in Washington State’s 8th Congressional District) continues to grow through the legal process of officially becoming a PAC.

Rosemary recently obtained her Taxpayer ID Number from the IRS, she also opened her campaign bank account, and she’s about to file the last official paperwork before the inanimate potted plant becomes an official political entity.

Along the way, we had an encounter with the Federal Election Commission that involved misdirection, extraordinary irony, and a phone call that could well have cost $1.99 a minute – and the scary part was that, for a minute, it all made actual sense.

We have a lot to talk about this time; we better get right to it.

For many ladies the victor cuts a ridiculous figure because he is swelling with importance and yet cannot cope with the never-ending handshaking, saluting, bowing, and waving, while the defeated keep their mouths shut and casually pet the necks of their whinnying horses.

--From the storyReflections for Gentlemen-Jockeys, by Franz Kafka

As we’ve mentioned in a previous story, it’s impossible to be a political candidate or committee without handling the money issues first (did you need direct evidence that money rules politics? Here it is…); that required Rosemary to obtain from the IRS a Taxpayer ID Number which then allowed her to open her bank account, and that will allow her to file her FEC Form 1, which is the document announcing to the Federal Election Commission your plant friend’s intention to form an “independent political expenditure committee”.

The IRS helpfully provides an online and a telephone service to issue Taxpayer ID Numbers; it took about 15 minutes to get it done, and there’s no charge for the service – and that’s pretty darn good for dealing with the IRS.

She also had to file an IRS Form 8871 to tell them that the Write In Rosemary PAC is an official nonprofit, in this case a 527(c)(4) organization, which, as with all political groups, means donations are not tax deductable (as opposed to charities, which are 527(c)(3) nonprofits; their donations are tax deductable).

When we first began to search out a bank, we tried Key Bank, but they wanted $250 to open an account, and that created an apparent “Catch-22”:

The Write In Rosemary PAC cannot accept or solicit donations without first opening a bank account, and $250 is a legally reportable donation, which, obviously, Rosemary cannot accept until after her account is opened.

The bank representative suggested perhaps Rosemary could ask for small donations to get to $250, but, again, that’s soliciting donations, which is illegal absent a bank account.

So I figured I better call the Federal Election Commission for advice, which, in their “Committee Treasurers Brochure”, they encourage, so I went to the website and dialed the 1-800 number.

The recording told me to hang up and dial the “Live Talk Line”, or something to that effect, which I thought was a bit odd, but then I figured, hey, maybe the FEC is doing some sort of phone tree reorganization to create better customer response outputs.

So I called.

The somewhat overly dramatic female voice who answered the “Live Talk Line” reported to me in no uncertain terms that I had come to the right place if I was looking to engage with one of her colleagues in some sort of live chat designed to…well, to elicit a better customer response output, anyway…and by the time she began to discuss the manner in which she intended to handle certain shafts that might come her way (a manner which, I might add, was wildly outside the context of any mining situation that you could possibly imagine), I was pretty darn sure that this wasn’t the FEC or any other Federal regulatory agency on the other end of the line – although, if you think about it, if it really was the FEC it could actually make a lot of sense, in its own weird way:

After all, there has been a real effort on the part of the Republicans in the House to cut funding for the regulatory agencies, and this is a good way to raise a buck, I suppose (a buck? How about $1.99 a minute), and there is a close connection in the minds of the public between elections and getting screwed, so I could see, conceptually, where the FEC might be going here – but it’s pretty hard to imagine, even for me, that anyone in the “No-Drama Obama” Administration would be willing to allow the FEC to turn the 1-800 number over to a performance artist in an election year, and that’s what really convinced me that something must be wrong.

Sure enough, I’d transposed two of the numbers (I’ll leave it to y’all to figure out which ones), and once the error had been corrected the again very helpful folks there at the FEC let me know that, as far as they were concerned, until I got to $5000 in either donations or expenditures they weren’t too worried about how I was taking in donations (although they did point out that, even under $5000, I still have to report certain donors, which is true within the boundaries of the Citizens United ruling).

With that advice in mind, Rosemary has since found a smaller local bank that allowed her to open a no-fee campaign account with a $100 initial deposit (no names, in order to protect the innocent, but it starts with an “S” and ends with “terling”, and so far they seem quite nice), and she will soon have all the legal “t”s dotted and “i”s crossed to allow her to accept (non tax deductable) donations from interested members of the public.

Rosemary is also about to begin her actual public campaign work, which is a subject about which we’ll have more to say shortly; for now let’s just say that Rosemary is planning a bit of political performance art of her own, and we’ll see how that goes when we get together next time – and if we get lucky, there’ll be some fun video to get the conversation going.

So that’s where we are for the next few days: the final paperwork is going into place, then we move along to the actual parts of the thing that are the hardest: getting out there and reminding folks en masse how much Reichert really does suck, and learning how to ask for money, which is something I don’t do naturally and Rosemary is going to have to learn to do fast if she wants to stay in the campaign in any real way.

Any questions? You can always email Rosemary at; if you Twitter you can also follow @ElectRosemary to keep up with all the fun.

It’ll be an interesting summer, that’s for sure, and if nothing else I’m already learning, in a real way, that there in nothing in politics before money – and if any of you ever wonder as to why there aren’t more “plain folks” in politics, I suspect we are getting a pretty good handle on one of the biggest reasons why.