The Green Party campaign staff of 17 faces an audit process designed for — but routinely dodged by — campaigns hundreds of times that.
While the presidential campaign teams for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama can move on to their next projects, staffers and volunteers with third-party candidates are preparing for a lengthy audit by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).
The Green Party’s 2012 presidential ticket of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala is the most recent target of an FEC audit, representing another hurdle for third-party campaigns that accept matching public funds to stay afloat, as FEC regulations require all those receiving public money to undergo intense audits.
In the eyes of Stein, the FEC scrutiny represents the “audit from hell,” one that will plague the operations of her Madison, Wis., campaign headquarters for six weeks, requiring her staff of 17 to be on hand for the commission for the duration of the process.
“We have made great progress in our preparations for this moment,” Campaign Manager Ben Manski said in a post. “But the reality still is that we are dealing with an audit process designed for campaigns 100 to 1,000 times the size of ours.”
Two weeks in, Stein’s staffers are responding to every beck and call of FEC officials. All inquiries presented by the commission regarding expenses, reports and income require swift and immediate response — staffers have 24 to 48 hours to turn over responses to the FEC.
The Stein campaign is caught in the catch-22 of American third-party politics. While the Stein/Honkala campaign celebrated when it became eligible for federal matching campaign funds, those celebrations came at a cost: a lengthy, costly audit by the FEC.
The Republican and Democratic parties’ deep financial pockets didn’t require them to collect on federal funds, leaving them out of the audit equation.
“Federal law requires the Commission to audit every political committee established by a candidate who received public funds and every presidential nominating convention committee that received public funds,” Christian Hilland of the FEC press office told Mint Press News. “In the 2012 election cycle, committees for Jill Stein, Gary Johnson and Charles E. “Buddy” Roemer III accepted public funds in connection with the presidential primary election.”
For those involved in third-party politics, it’s all part of the game — another hurdle for those working tirelessly to push for a voice that sits outside the two main political parties.
“We won nearly half a million votes, the best showing ever for a Green Party member seeking the presidency. We followed up the election with Green Campaign Schools in six regions of the country,” Manski said in a statement. “And now we are paying the piper and going through an audit that only the Greens and the Libertarians are subject to (because neither Obama nor Romney chose to participate in the clean elections program).”
Keeping up with the mainstream
According to an October 2012 Open Secrets report, Jill Stein and her campaign raised $893,000 and spent $882,354. Compared with the fundraising and expenditures of the two main presidential campaigns, Stein’s numbers are woefully low.
The audit isn’t a complete surprise, but that doesn’t alleviate the stress and obstacles Stein and her team face. Under FEC regulations, publicly funded campaigns are obliged to undergo the audit. Yet as Stein pointed out in a March post on her website, the burden felt by third-party campaigns is exponentially more than those of the two major parties.
“Audits are much less of an issue for the big campaigns — the multibillion dollar campaigns that have vast legal and accounting help to deal with the bureaucratic nightmare,” she wrote. “We’ll never have that kind of safety net. But we can at least get ready with sufficient funds to maintain a strong office force and legal support team.”
The Green Party is calling on supporters who backed the Stein/Honkala ticket in the 2012 campaign to continue its support of third-party, progressive politics by donating to an audit relief fund.
“We need your help right now,” Manski said in an email to supporters. “We’ve hired experienced attorneys to help guide us through the audit process. We have a much-reduced staff working full time and overtime to comply with audit requests. We continue to maintain and update this website and a tiny office.”
What is the FEC looking for?
The FEC audits every political committee established by a candidate receiving public campaign funds, in compliance with Section 9038 of title 26 of the United States Code: “After each matching payment period, the Commission shall conduct a thorough examination and audit of the qualified campaign expenses of every candidate that has authorized committees who received (matching) payments under section 9537.”
“The campaign finance law permits the Commission to conduct an audit of any political committee. The Commission generally conducts such audits when a committee appears not to have met the threshold requirements for substantial compliance,” the FEC states on its website. “The audit determines whether the committee complied with the limitations, prohibitions and disclosure requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act.”
Hilland said the audit will be available on the FEC website when all reports of publicly financed presidential committees are complete.