There is no position on a campaign that gets less love than the Official Agent. They are like referees at a sporting event – you never hear about them until something goes really wrong.
The Official Agent does not just write cheques and show “Authorized by the Official Agent” on election materials.
Even though the Official Agent doesn’t get much love they are fundamentally important to any campaign – especially on large campaigns. The candidate and the Official Agent are two people on a campaign who can be held legally responsible for breaking election financing rules under the Canada Elections Act. In fact, it has happened twice in recent times – the Official Agents for former Conservative MPs Dean Del Mastro and Peter Penashue have both been charged for breaking election financing rules.
Anyone who is a non-bankrupt eligible voter can be an Official Agent. However, not everyone should be an Official Agent. It is a mistake for a candidate to pick someone out of sheer necessity to be their Official Agent. They should be looking for someone with a specific skill-set because the role is so crucial. This article will detail the responsibilities of someone who takes on the role of an Official Agent and give them some tips on how to effectively do their job on the campaign. As the forms and regulations can vary in each province for provincial/municipal campaigns, so I will focus on the roles of an Official Agent during federal election campaign.
- Signing Candidate’s Elections Canada documents
- Opening a campaign bank account
- Accepting, depositing, and tracking donations from supporters
- Providing receipts for donations
- Understanding and enforcing campaign donation limits – in 2015, the federal limit is $1,500 for a personal donation. Corporate and union donations are prohibited.
- Writing cheques for campaign expenses
- Ensure that campaign expenses fall under the federal campaign expense limit
- Completing the Election Financing Return via EFR software
- Working with an auditor to ensure that all expenses are properly tracked, fall under campaign finance rules, and balance with donations
- Send completed Election Financing Return with all original documentation to Elections Canada’s auditing department with the completed independent auditor’s report prior to filing deadline.
When looking to fill the role of Official Agent, a candidate should be looking for someone who is:
- Supremely organized
- Completely trustworthy
- Understands the ins and outs of federal election financing rules
- Good with numbers – possibly an accountant
- Going to be readily available throughout the campaign to issue cheques to reimburse expenses
- Going to be available post-campaign to complete the Election Financing Return
Here are some tips for someone who has accepted the role of Official Agent:
- Find a mentor. If you are a first time Official Agent in a federal campaign, try to find someone who has prior experience as an Official Agent. They can help answer your questions about the process (ie setting up the bank account) and using the EFR program. Stay in touch with them and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Always understand every expense. Money is spent very quickly on a campaign and receipts will pile up faster than you expect. Before you make any cheques out to anyone, make sure that you know exactly what the expense is for. This is important for two reasons – 1) because you have to categorize each expense in the Election Finance Return system, 2) You need to ensure that the expense is a legitimate expense. As the Official Agent, you will be the person who has to answer for the cheques that you write so ensure that you know why you are writing them.
- Create a form. Ask the campaign staff to complete a form for each receipt that they claim. On that form, you should get their name, address (in case you need to mail the cheque), phone number (in case that you or the auditor have questions about the expense), date of expense, and reason for the expense. Ensure that everyone who works for the campaign knows that this form is mandatory.
- Always photocopy every receipt. Elections Canada asks for originals of each receipt. Photocopy each receipt and put the original receipt in a safe location (that you will remember!) so that you won’t lose them. Use the photocopied receipts when you are entering the expense into EFR.
- Regularly keep the Campaign Manager informed on current expense totals and how far the campaign is away from the expense limit. You are the one who has to ensure that the campaign does not blow past the campaign limit. Campaign Managers are the ones who generally decide what the money needs to be spent on. They should know how much room they have.
- Don’t write expense cheques until you’ve entered the expenses into EFR software. The return is much easier if you ensure that the expenses are logged in the system before you write the cheque.
- Do the Election Financing Return early. As soon as the election is over, election workers tend to scatter and it becomes really difficult to get answers to questions about the campaign expenses. Doing the return early also gives you time to work with the auditor to ensure that everything has been properly entered on the return and get the approval.
- Work closely with your Auditor. The Auditor knows the process extremely well and will probably guide you to ensure that everything has been properly entered into EFR. The auditor is usually appointed by the political party and if you are not sure who the auditor is, you should contact the federal office of your party.
Being an Official Agent isn’t the easiest job in the world but it is important. Even if you don’t feel the love, rest assured that you are helping your candidate make your country a better place.