In every political campaign and committee, there is someone in control of the purse. Creating and regulating bank accounts, tracking fundraising and spending, ensuring that candidates don’t have to dip into their own pockets, reporting campaign finance records to the respective governmental authority, taking legal donations and rejecting all else—committee treasurers carry the bulk of legal and fundraising responsibility in politics.
Franklin & Marshall’s Jessica Haile, Assistant Dean for International Student Services, holds this position for two local PACs, one being Yoder for Lancaster, commissioner candidate Alice Yoder’s campaign committee. This is the largest campaign Haile has worked on.
“For a campaign treasurer, I always like to say they’re the first in and last out,” said Haile. “You have to have a treasurer in order to open a committee that acts on behalf of the candidate. [They] are one of the very first people that a candidate has to bring on.”
The race for Lancaster County commissioner is arguably one of the most significant on Thursday’s ballot, as two Democrats—Yoder and former Republican Bob Hollister—fight to oust incumbent Republicans from their seats. County commissioners are historically Republican-majority in Lancaster. Haile, like many bookkeepers, sticks to her party for campaign finance jobs, only working on behalf of progressive candidates.
“I’ve worked on a lot of democratic committees, and I’ve never been with a candidate that’s won, so I’ve always been, a couple of months after the election, going in and closing that account, figuring out what to do with any money left, what candidates we’re gonna give that money to,” Haile said. “This race looks like it might end up a little differently. I’m going to get a whole new education on what it’s like to indefinitely continue, which will be really fun.”
Just in the last reporting cycle, Yoder for Lancaster reported over $73,000 fundraised and $67,000 spent, leaving $25,000 on hand for last-minute campaign spending, according to new campaign finance reports. Haile is responsible for keeping track of all of it, from $50 individual donations to Target runs for volunteer event supplies to thousands of dollars in postage for political mailers.
Haile has been working on campaigns since 2012, called by friends “the Swiss army knife of campaigning” after hopping from role to role. She started working in campaign finance in 2018, after another treasurer, in his mid-80s, decided it was time to move on. He was old school, according to Haile, filing campaign finance reports via typewriter. The Pennsylvania campaign finance system is archaic even today, as sloppy handwritten reports are still permitted locally and submissions of reports via CD (and according to the 1937 Election Code, telegram) at the state level.
Haile, a young face on the campaign finance scene, brought some modernity to the table with previous work in social media campaigning. She has worked as treasurer on four campaigns, local and statewide, since.
“I kind of just fell into it,” said Haile. Now, she rates herself a campaign finance “semi-expert” on LinkedIn.
Aside from Yoder’s campaign, Haile is also treasurer for a committee called Starter PAC, started by four or five campaign-oriented friends at the end of 2022. The purpose of the PAC: to help train a new generation of progressive campaigners.
“Our goal was to use a lot of the expertise we had learned over the last 10 years running campaigns and working with candidates. Some of them had been candidates themselves,” said Haile. “Our goal is to help pass along that knowledge for free, to train candidates and campaign volunteers because right now we don’t have a lot of those. There’s a small pool of people that know how to be campaign treasurer. There’s a small pool of people that want to be campaign managers.”
In Zoom office hours, Haile helps clear up the gray areas of campaign finance, a system made confusing on local, state, and federal levels. She does not profit from this training work.
Her performance in the role can have severe consequences in the world of political law and ethics. A treasurer she formerly trained under described treasurer and defendant as synonyms. In Haile’s words, “if your campaign gets in trouble, it’s probably about money, and it’s probably your fault.” Very few aspects of voter engagement are free, so there are plenty of opportunities for error. Political fundraising in Pennsylvania has only escalated in recent years, with Josh Shapiro’s gubernatorial campaign a prime example of extreme political raising and spending.
“You’re the one who knows your finances intimately and where the money’s coming from. You do have a job to make sure that the candidate knows well [where money is moving],” said Haile.
As treasurer, Haile has gotten to know the inner workings of county politics and the niche world of campaign finance. Political committees cannot operate legally or de facto without her. Just in Yoder’s campaign, she has overseen over 1000 transactions since last August.
Although the role requires immense attention to detail and fiscal responsibility, Haile emphasized that it warms her heart to watch individuals come together to support campaigns they care about, particularly those who don’t have much but believe in a cause.
“When I talk to people about supporting the campaign, we’re talking about investing in a vision,” said Haile. “Making an investment in this campaign. You know, that can be $5, it can be $20 is gonna be $100. But that brings them into the process.”
Pennsylvania polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. To check your polling location, click here. While most F&M students will vote at the Lancaster Theological Seminary, those with non-school addresses may vote elsewhere.
Senior Sarah Nicell is the Editor-in-Chief of The College Reporter. Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org.