On the Fast Track: 2009 Mandatory Campaign Audit Cycle Begins

Among its Charter-based duties, the City Ethics Commission (CEC) is charged with responsibility to conduct mandatory audits of campaigns for elective City office. The Commission conducts these audits to ensure that campaign activity is accurately disclosed to the public, to determine a committee's degree of compliance with applicable state and City laws, and to provide a written public record of a committee's compliance with these laws.

In August, the CEC began conducting audits in connection with the 2009 primary and general elections. Commission staff will audit 47 committees controlled by 22 candidates. Together, these committees raised nearly $25 million in contributions, received more than $1.7 million in public matching funds, and spent $24.9 million.

The City’s Administrative Code establishes procedural requirements for the CEC’s audit program. For each municipal election cycle, it requires the Commission to audit the campaign of any candidate for elective City office who raised or spent at least $100,000 and any candidate that has received Public Matching Funds in connection with their campaign. The law also requires mandatory audits of 20 percent of the campaigns that raised or spent less than $100,000.

To facilitate the audit process, the Los Angeles City Charter requires candidates for City office and their treasurers to maintain detailed accounts, records, bills and receipts necessary to prepare their campaign statements. Under the state’s Political Reform Act of 1974, candidates and treasurers must retain their campaign documents for four years. Based on the Commission’s audit authority, auditors conduct “tests” to determine compliance with roughly 30 provisions of state and city law.

Beginning with the 2005 audit cycle, the CEC implemented its Fast Track Audit, or “FTA” program. This program was developed in-house and in collaboration with the campaign community in an effort to reduce the overall time taken to complete all mandatory audits. A voluntary program, its goal is to complete campaign audits within a prescribed timeline without compromising on quality, oversight, or public policy aims. Under FTA, for example, an audit of a City Council campaign committee is completed with 20 business days. An audit of a Citywide committee – for Mayor, City Attorney, or Controller – is completed within 29 business days.

As a result, for the 2005 and 2007 audit cycles, all of the Commission’s audits were completed within one year after the start of the audit cycle.

At the conclusion of the audit process, Commission auditors prepare and make public a written report detailing their findings regarding each committee's compliance with applicable laws. Reports are then routinely referred to the Commission’s Enforcement staff, to the City Attorney, and to the California Fair Political Practices Commission to determine whether audit findings warrant enforcement action.

For copies of the Commission’s audit reports, please visit the audit section of the Commission’s website at http://ethics.lacity.org/audits.

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