The business of election financing

By Jodi Cooke for Elections BC
Jul 10, 2024
Photo credit: Baris-Ozer/iStock/Getty Images

When most people think of elections, they think of campaign slogans and ballot boxes, but behind the scenes there are important financing rules that all campaigns must follow. In addition to enhancing accountability and transparency, these rules maintain a level playing field for everyone who participates in election campaigns.

To make sure they are following these financing rules, political parties, candidates, and individuals/organizations engaged in third-party election advertising (whether to promote or oppose the election of a candidate or party) often enlist the help of CPAs. Recognizing this, and with the 43rd provincial general election fast approaching on October 19, 2024, Elections BC wants to remind all CPABC members of the legislated election financing requirements so that everyone can stay onside of the rules under the Election Act.

What CPAs should know before working on an election campaign

  1. Know the role you will be performing.

    Every provincial candidate and political party must appoint a financial agent and an independent auditor when they register with Elections BC.

    The financial agent is the individual responsible for managing the day-to-day finances of the election campaign for a political party or candidate; this includes ensuring that all transactions comply with the requirements of the Election Act and filing financial reports after the election. A candidate may choose to act as their own financial agent or they can appoint someone to do this work on their behalf.

    The auditor must be an independent CPA or CPA firm certified to perform audits in Canada. Please note that while all candidates and parties must appoint an auditor, it is not a requirement to have all reports audited (see point 3).

  2. Election financing rules differ from other accounting principles.

    While having a background in accounting can be a huge advantage when helping with a campaign, CPAs should be aware that there are some rules unique to election financing that can get financial agents into trouble. They include:

    • Accepting political contributions from prohibited sources or that are over the annual limits: Contributions can only be accepted from eligible individuals who reside in BC and are either Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Contributions from organizations and contributions from individuals living outside of BC are prohibited. The annual contribution limit for 2024 is $1,450.82, and it applies to the total amount of contributions an eligible individual makes to a political party during the year, including any candidates or nomination contestants representing the party.

    • Issuing ineligible income tax receipts: Tax receipts can only be issued for contributions of money received by candidates and political parties. Furthermore, candidates cannot receive tax-receiptable contributions until they have received a certificate of candidacy from Elections BC. If a candidate files a standing nomination application with Elections BC now, the earliest they can receive their certificate of candidacy and start receiving tax-receiptable contributions is when the writs for the election are issued on September 21, 2024.

    • Not including sponsorship contact information on advertising: The Election Act requires that election advertising must include contact information where the sponsor can be contacted if the public has questions. This information must include the name of the financial agent and the sponsor’s BC phone number, mailing address, or email address. Note: If you are participating in a 2024 election campaign organized by an individual or organization other than a candidate or political party, we encourage you to review the rules for election advertisers; these rules take effect on July 23, 2024 (the start of the 60 day pre-campaign period).

    • Incurring election expenses over the limit: Election expenses include any property or services used to promote or oppose a candidate or political party during the campaign period (September 21 to October 19, 2024), regardless of when it is paid for or if it is donated. If property or services are donated, the value of the election expense and political contribution is the equivalent market value at the current time. Candidates and political parties have separate election expense limits, which will be calculated and communicated at the start of the campaign period on September 21, 2024. There are serious consequences for exceeding these established limits.

  3. Financial reports must be filed after the election.

    The appointed financial agent must file a financial disclosure report within 90 days after the election. This report must disclose income and expenses in relation to the election campaign. Additionally, if any information in the financial disclosure report changes or the financial agent becomes aware that something has been reported incorrectly, the agent must file an amended supplemental report within 30 days of becoming aware of the change or error.

    Furthermore, financial disclosure reports must be audited if the candidate or party incurs more than $10,000 in election expenses or accepts more than $10,000 in political contributions.

    Failure to file a report may result in significant penalties. Copies of all reports filed with Elections BC are published online.

  4. Keep good records, and avoid taking on more than you can manage.

    There is nothing in the Election Act that prevents a CPA from representing more than one election campaign—either as a financial agent or as an independent auditor. However, the same requirements and deadlines apply regardless of whether you represent one campaign or 100.

    Moreover, it’s important to ensure that you have the time and resources available to meet the responsibilities you’ve signed up for, which include keeping complete and organized financial records.

  5. Failure to comply may result in significant penalties and their publication.

    Penalties and their publication may be potentially damaging to a CPA’s reputation and other business relationships, so it’s important to ensure that you have a good understanding of the rules and requirements before agreeing to serve as the financial agent for or the auditor of an election campaign.

More information is available

If you’re thinking about getting involved in the upcoming provincial election, be sure to visit the Elections BC website for more information about financial roles and responsibilities.

Elections BC also offers information sessions on the various rules and requirements, which you are encouraged to attend. Details about these sessions are available on the Elections BC website under “Candidates & Parties” > “Information Sessions.” And if you still have questions, please call Elections BC at 1-800-661-8683.

Jodi Cooke, CPA, CGA, is the executive director of electoral finance for Elections BC. This article was originally published in the July/August 2024 issue of CPABC in Focus.

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