Running For Office 101- Getting Organized
So, it is 22 months before the election for the office you have decided to run for. You are getting used to that feeling that you jumped off a cliff and are seeing the ground coming up fast, but are you on track with your homework?
Let’s say that you are; now it is time to turn your attention to the nuts and bolts of your campaign. You have found out that you will need to raise an astounding amount of money to run for office (Approximately 100K for a State Rep seat). If that has not kept you up a couple of nights wonder how the hell you are going to manage it, you are a better person than the Dog. You know the issues; you are working on how you will talk about them and ruthlessly cutting it down to a paragraph or less so you don’t bore people when they ask. All of this is to the good, but you will never get elected by yourself.
It is time to start thinking about the people you will need in your “Friends of X” campaign committee. Depending on how big your district (town, county, state) is it will affect the number of people you will need in your campaign committee. Perhaps the most important person you will need to find is your Treasurer.
The Dog knows that most folks would say that a Campaign Manager is most important, but ask yourself how many politicians get into trouble from failing to report and control their campaign donations? You will want someone, ideally, that works with money and books on a regular basis. Someone that is a book keeper would be good, but someone that is really an accountant is better. It is a good idea to find this person now; as there may be training that you will want to send them to in order to make sure that you are complying with all the Campaign Finance laws in your state. What’s that? You don’t know what those laws are? You had better head over to the Secretary of States website, and find out!
Now that you are sure you’re going to have the books handled, you should start thinking about a campaign manager. The Dog knows that it is tempting to say that you can run this whole circus by yourself, and you might be right. However, you are almost assured to do better if you have someone watching the big picture other than you. Your time is going to be very quickly taken up by fundraising calls and door to door work. It is also helpful to be able to off load some of the responsibilities of the campaign on to someone else. Do you really want to be the one that runs to Office Depot, as well as making all those calls? That is to say nothing of having someone that you can bounce ideas off of, that you can practice the way you say things with who will have a critical eye.
The Dog does not know your relationship with your significant other, but it is generally a bad idea to make them your Campaign Manager. There is going to be enough stress on your relationship without adding the nag factor that your CM is going to provide. Your CM is going to be the one that asks if you have made your calls today, the one that is going to tell you that you have to pick up the pace in terms of door to door and the one that explains how you favorite line in your door to door speech makes you sound wishy-washy. Better to have someone that won’t smother you in your sleep when you are a jackass about hearing all that, eh?
With those two positions taken care of you will want to round the committee our with subject matter experts. These would be folks in various fields that can do two things. First of they are going to be able to really get you up to speed on the issues in their fields. This is going to be important for when you start hitting up unions and other groups for money. The more effectively you are briefed and ready to answer the issues of these constituencies, the more likely they are to give you the maximum amount of money. Which leads the Dog to the next thing they should be able to do; ideally this group will be able to raise some money for you from their friends and coworkers. A kitchen cabinet is a great thing to have, but if it takes too much time in maintaining away from fundraising, then you have to have it raise some funds as well.
Now it is time to start organizing some support. If you are really well known in your community, especially in the political part of your community, then you are ahead of the game. Most of us are not going to that well connected, so it is time to start trying to get the support you can. If you are running for a state office, you should reach out to the state majority project if there is one. By getting there ahead of everyone else and getting these folks to see you as a viable candidate, you can steal a step from any primary competitors.
It is also a good way to find out if there are already people eyeing the race other than you. If you see an opportunity to run, it is very unlikely that you are the only one. Information is power, so start your opposition research now. How do you do that? Well, Google is a great place to start. Google their name and see what comes up. You should also head back the Sec of State website and see if they have filed to run (You really should just bookmark that site; you are going to use it a lot). You should also take time to look at what it takes to be considered a candidate. Some states have much lower bars than others; in Colorado all it takes is for you to say out loud, in a public place that you intend to run. That is it; you are now a candidate and have to follow the rules.
The next thing you should be doing at this point is going over the financial reports from the last 4 cycles with a fine tooth comb. Last lesson the Dog had you look at the money in a general way. Now it is time to dig into the details. How many donors did each candidate get? What was the average donation amount? What percentage were PAC’s and Small Donor committees? What percentage were private citizens? How many gave the maximum contribution? What percentage was from out of State? How does all of this correlate with who won?
Looking at the expenditures, where was the money spent? Did the Republican candidate engage an out of state direct mail fundraiser? They do that a lot and it makes it look like they raised a hell of a lot more money, but the reality is most of that money goes back to the direct mail company. It is important to know these kinds of things. When did they spend their money? Were there any problems where they had to amend the report? If so how often? It might feel like you are snooping but this is public knowledge, so get it and be ready to think about it. Try to get a feel for how many donors you will need and when if you are going to be successful.
Finally, you have to start working on your fund raising pitch. The Dog knows that many, many people hate to ask for money for their campaigns. Tough nooggies. If you want to win, you have to do what it takes, and unless you are completely wealthy (in which case the Dog would like to talk to you about a donation for his campaign) you are going to have to talk to a lot of people and ask for the money.
The first group is going to be your friends and family. Unless you have really been silent about your ambitions, they know that you are considering a run. They will not be very mean to you (except Uncle Terry, but he never liked you anyway) they are going to want you to succeed so make that list of all of them. Even your Dad’s second cousin that you have not seen since the two of you got hammered on Peach Schnapps when you were 15. Call them and ask for their support. The pitch here is going to be along the lines of explaining that early money is really important for attracting more money, and that while you will take whatever they can afford, if they can give the max for both the primary and the general, that would not only help the most, but it would keep you from calling them again for more. The last is not really true, as you are going to ask everyone that gives you the maximum to form a small donor committee and hit up their friends, but that is next year so it should not be a problem. Be sure that you know the reporting rule so you can get all the info you need (in Colorado if you give more than $20 you have to have SS, company and occupation for reporting). Also, before you start making these calls, have a bank account set up! You will need somewhere to put those checks (really you are going to get at least some money!).
Now that you have about another two weeks worth of work to do the Dog is going to call this lesson right here. Is this a lot of work? Hell yes it is, but if it were easy everyone would do this. Remember, you thought this through; you want to serve the people of your district and your state. This is a job you are asking for that will rarely get you thanks, but for whatever your reasons are you feel you should do it. You can do this, none of it is hard, just repetitive and, occasionally, socially uncomfortable. Now get to work! Only 22 months to Election Day, and every day you don’t move forward is a day that you will not get back!
The floor is yours.