As a Matter of Form, Keeping Candidates Honest Can Be Taxing

Pay attention now. If you take in more than $500, you must report it on Form 430, but use Form 470 for less than $500, or Form 420 if more than one person is involved and Form 405 if you need to amend your report.

Got that? Good. Now as to the long forms, you need to remember that Schedule A is for reporting cash received, B is for loans, C is for in-kind services, D is for pledges of cash, E is for cash outflow, and way down at the bottom, we have a Schedule G for reporting anything that doesn't fit anywhere else.

Is this advice on how to file your income tax? No, that's down the hall. What you're getting here--if you happened to be in the Manhattan Beach City Council chambers one day last week--is a quickie course just for political candidates.

It seems they need special training in how to handle all the paper work involved in running for public office, particularly the forms prescribed for reporting campaign contributions.

John Lacey, Manhattan Beach's city clerk, recognized the need. "All the rulings and regulations get pretty confusing for those of us who file," said Lacey, who is not up for reelection this year.

To help clear up the confusion for local candidates in the April elections, Lacey decided to call in an expert from the Los Angeles office of the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, the creator of campaign forms.

He invited office seekers from Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and El Segundo, and about 15 showed up, several with their committee treasurers in tow.

They listened to the presentation by FPPC consultant Helen Arriola and eagerly took notes. After all, a conscientious candidate wouldn't want to get tripped up by an improperly filed form.

"I wanted to be sure I didn't miss any point on the rules," said Connie Sieber, a flight attendant who is making her second bid for a seat on the Manhattan Beach council. "Something like this helps keep everybody honest" in an election campaign.

However, after Arriola had explained the intricacies of the first 10 or so forms--"they're really quite simple if you read the headings and throw away the pages that don't apply to you"--the attention of the political hopefuls began to waver.

Eyes glazed. Pens stopped trying to keep up with the flood of instructions on which form to use in certain circumstances and not in others.

Even City Clerk Lacey seemed to wilt a bit in his dapper tan suit.

"It is overwhelming," said Bruce Ponder, a management consultant and one of seven candidates for two seats on the Manhattan Beach council. "But my experience with government bureaucracy in the past kind of prepared me for it."

How did politicians, whose normal role in the scheme of things is to legislate paper work that often befuddles ordinary folks, get themselves entangled in red tape?

They didn't do it. In 1974, the citizens of California, through a 70% vote in favor of Proposition 4, decreed that all candidates for public office must disclose from whom they get their campaign money and for what they spend it.

But the candidates at Lacey's seminar, most of whom are trying for their first turns in the seats of government, weren't complaining. The Political Reform Initiative has done wonders for honest electioneering, they said, and when you have a law, you have to to fill out the forms to be sure everybody is doing what they're supposed to be doing.

"After all," Ponder said, "the bottom line is not whether it's convenient for the candidate, but whether it protects the best interests of the community, and I support it."

Nestor Synadinos, who was sitting in at the seminar for his candidate wife, El Segundo Mayor Pro Tem Le Synadinos, was less enthusiastic about the merits of the process. He said he knows of a number of complaints in past elections that have not been acted on by the FPPC.

"They are not enforcing this law," he contended.

Not so, said the FPPC's Arriola. There is enforcement, she said, but that can be more complicated than it seems to people not thoroughly familiar with the law.

In any case, she said, most candidates want to comply, so it's just a matter of educating them on the rules and how to fill out the forms. In fact, she added, compliance statewide is 98.9% in races for the highest to the lowest elective offices.

Thanks to Lacey's seminar last week, that percentage may rise even higher in the South Bay.

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