The majority of best practices below come from past Trail Blazer’s support experiences and fall into one or more of these categories:
· Incomplete or missing information.
· Lack of planning.
· Incorrect usage of Trail Blazer for recording data.
· Not reconciling bank statements with data in Trail Blazer.
· Not having all relevant bank statements and receipts handy when filing.
Trail Blazer uses the FEC software itself to run checks against the report and file the data. Their software runs using the Java programming language. You will need to have Java installed to run and file reports.
As we are not the FEC, we cannot advise you as the FEC might. All suggestions contained in this article are suggestions on how to use Trail Blazer in a manner to avoid common FEC filing pitfalls other Trail Blazer customers have encountered.
Trail Blazer is a software tool that allows you to file FEC reports. Trail Blazer is programmed to enforce FEC rules related to filing.
Your organization is responsible for knowing its filing deadlines. In addition, your organization is responsible for doing the actual filing.
Contact the FEC with your FEC related questions: (800) 424-9530.
Contact Trail Blazer with your Trail Blazer related FEC filing questions: (866) 909-8700.
Brand New Committee?
If your committee hasn’t filed paperwork with the FEC to officially organize as a committee, then you need to do so. In addition, you need to do this on paper. Visit the FEC website to find information how to do that. After filing that paperwork, they will assign your committee a number. Also, if filing as a committee for a candidate, the candidate will also be assigned a number.
Both of these numbers are essential to be registered inside of your Trail Blazer’s Committee. The committee is located in the Application Menu under System Manager – Lists. Click Committee to open the committee list. Click on the committee name where the ID of the line is equal to 1. This is the committee that has licensed Trail Blazer (i.e: your organization).
Inside the committee card, go to the Disclosure tab. The image below shows an example of this.
Complete Committee Information
Speaking of Trail Blazer’s Committee window, take a good look at the top portion of the committee record and the Disclosure tab. Also take a look at the Representing / Active In tab. Verify that data is entered and accurate.
Hint:FEC Committee IDs always start with the letter C. FEC Candidate IDs always start with the letter H (House), S (Senate), or P (President).
Electronic FEC Filing
If you are required to file electronically with the FEC, make sure you have your FEC electronic filing information at least 2 weeks before your next filing deadline. Enter this information into your Trail Blazer Committee record. Once it is entered there and saved, you should not need it again. However, it is recommended that you keep that information stored in a secure place outside of Trail Blazer.
At the time of writing this article, U.S. Senate committees do not file electronically, so this section does not apply to you. However, U.S. Senate committees must file a printed report to be sent via U.S. Mail.
Timing is Everything
Allow time to:
· Work through problems that may arise while preparing to file
· Reconcile against your bank statements
· Potentially call your FEC analyst to ask them for help
· Calling Trail Blazer’s Support Team if technical issues arise
Because of these concerns, Trail Blazer recommends you begin preparing the report that you will file days in advance. You can go through steps 1 (Create Report), 2 (Check & Print), and 3 (Save Report) of Trail Blazer’s FEC report filing process without the report being sent electronically to the FEC. That is step 4 (Upload to the Fec). These four steps are the big buttons in the FEC Reporting window, as shown below.
Another important note to mention about timing is about the FEC and their availability. The filing deadline is midnight. However, the staff at the FEC are not available outside of their standard business hours. That means no one is available at the FEC to ask questions or get help outside of 8 A.M. - 5 P.M. Eastern Mondays-Fridays excluding federal holidays.
Creating a Report
When creating a report, be sure to have the final cash on hand numbers from the previous report. You will need to enter that into the new report. If you report something different, then the FEC will detect the differing amounts. If that happens, expect a letter from the FEC.
A second suggestion about creating a new FEC Report: be 100% certain that the dates for the beginning and ending of the covering period are accurate. If you file a FEC report with incorrect dates, you will not be able to change them. An error in the dates will require a special password from the FEC and a special upload process to correct. This special process is hugely inconvenient and usually fails on the first two or three attempts.
Keeping it Organized
When you create a report, there is nothing forcing you to file that particular report. In fact, step 3 of the process (see the picture below) will save the report. At this point, you can close the report.
When you want to go back to that report to make changes to it, go into the Application Menu’s Disclosure folder and click on FEC Reporting. Look in the list for the report you had created. Click on the number in the ID column to open the report.
WARNING: Once you click the Upload to the FEC button and the file successfully is uploaded to the FEC, do NOT make changes the report.
Reconcile Bank Account(s) Often
We recommend that you reconcile information in Trail Blazer with your bank (and credit card) statements every time you get a statement. This way, you remain current with your Trail Blazer information.
If you don’t do this, you leave all the reconciling to be done in the hours or last days before a FEC report is due. Is this the time you want to discover that something isn’t reconciling properly?
That is why we recommend reconciling your financial statements with what is inside Trail Blazer.
Run Your FEC Report Often
Over time, contributions come in and payments go out of your organization. As with the reconciling often, we also recommend that you run your FEC report often. This way, you can work on resolving FEC errors and warnings well before your report is due.
Enter Ethics Memo Items into Trail Blazer Correctly
You need to enter the ethics memo items in Trail Blazer properly in order for them to appear on the FEC report properly.
These two links discuss how to properly enter ethics memo items into Trail Blazer properly. This link: Expenditure Reimbursement Schedule A Itemization is a Knowledge Base article. This link: Expenses - Reimburse Employee For Multiple Items is a short YouTube video on the topic.
Hints on Resolving FEC Reporting Errors/Warnings
When you click the Check & Print button (the one with the big number 2 on it), Trail Blazer goes through the process of gathering information to put into the FEC report. At the end of this, you will see a bunch of tabs like the picture below. And open a PDF version of the FEC report that would be filed, if you file the report.
Minimize the PDF file for now.
The tab you will be on in Trail Blazer is the Validation Results tab. This summarizes the report, including number of errors and warnings along with brief hints on each error and warning. The contents of this tab for a sample report are shown below.