How much does a local campaign cost?

Campaign Startup
April 1, 2018

We get asked this question all the time – how much money does a campaign cost? Put another way, how much do I need to raise when running for political office?

Unfortunately, the short answer is that it really varies. Some campaigns cost less than $1,000 while the exact same seat in neighboring district or state could cost multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. But while the cost of campaigns can vary drastically, the steps to figuring out how much you need raise to run a competitive race are fairly straight forward.

Here are our suggestions.

  1. Review past candidate financial disclosures for the seat you are running.
    Financial disclosures of previous candidates are always the best metric to figure out how much money you need. Typically these reports can be found online at Secretary of State, City/County Clerk, or other local elections officials’ websites. Additionally, www.followthemoney.org is a great resource that aggregates data from most local campaigns in an easily searchable format. However, it is important to understand that every race is different and your race could cost significantly more or less than the previous campaign. When reviewing financial disclosures keep in mind if the previous campaigns were competitive elections or not. Was there a primary that caused a candidate to need additional resources? Were they facing an incumbent with significant upfront resources or was it an open seat? Were controversial issues on the ballot that year you are researching that may have impacted local campaigns?
  2. Research the recent, most competitive campaigns in your state.
    If you know your race is likely to be competitive, if you have a strong opponent, and/or if you are working to unseat an incumbent, your best comparison will be finding a similar race in a neighboring or nearby district to compare. When finding a similar district, take note of the number of voters and turnout in both your and the district for which you are comparing. Explore previous cycles to see if the amount raised and spent is increasing, decreasing, or remaining flat. Any trends you can identify can be helpful in setting a financial goal for your campaign.
  3. Talk to current elected officials.
    People that have walked in your shoes before will always provide the best guidance and advice. Talk to other elected officials and people who have been involved in similar elections and ask how much money they think you need to raise. Chances are, they will have a good ballpark figure. Other candidates and current electeds are often “political junkies” and can tell you the history of various seats and whether a campaign spent its money wisely or not. Getting the opinion of the veterans in your area should give you a good benchmark to set a few goals.
  4. Draft and budget from the ground up.
    Sometimes the best way to know how much you need to raise is to just draft a budget. While other campaigns can give you some general direction and ideas on how much you need, the reality is every campaign is different, especially yours. Some candidates may have access to volunteers or in-kind services. Others may have limited time and additional personal financial capacity and are able to spend a little more. In the end, drafting a budget and working to keep it – or modify it as you feel your way through the campaign – is the best way to understand how much you truly need to raise. For tips on building a campaign budget and a template you can use, check out this other FundHero blog.

Remember, while all campaigns need financial resources to be successful, every campaign is different. There is no silver bullet or a magic amount you need to raise. All you need to do is roll up your sleeves and get to work. Good luck!

Matt Lyon
Matt’s experience includes overseeing up to fourteen staff members, administering budgets exceeding $1.1 million annually, directing million dollar paid media programs, raising over $5 million for various causes and organizations, and developing and implementing communications strategies that led to dozens of stories in local and national outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post.

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