A Former Candidate Breaks Down the Biggest Challenge in Running for Office

February 10th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

The presidential election inspired thousands of young people to become politically active and even run for office. But a campaign, even one for a local election, requires money. 

However, money should not be an obstacle to pursuing political office in your community. 

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said too many people are intimidated by the money in political campaigns, and he hopes to change that. 

"Money is important, because it shows support and helps you talk to more people, but not having the most amount of money, I hope, should never be a deterrent," he told ATTN:.

Rep. Eric Swalwell

The 36-year old congressman ran for local office shortly after college when he moved home to California's East Bay at the age of 25. He said he immediately wanted to run for city council but a mentor encouraged him to learn more about the community and himself before pursuing an "attractive office," advice Swalwell gives to other politically engaged young people. 

"Run for an issue and not a particular office," he said. "Find your issue and that will lead to the right office." 

So how do you raise money?

ATTN: talked to Keavin Duffy Jr., a 34-year-old Gold Star family member and former candidate for state office about his experience on the campaign trail.

Duffy ran for a state representative seat in Southeastern Massachusetts in 2014, his first attempt at political office. He initially ran as an independent and then registered as a Democrat against an incumbent Republican. Although his run was unsuccessful, he tells ATTN: he learned some things along the way about the "dos and don'ts" of raising money for a campaign.  

Here are his five tips on raising money for a political campaign:

1. Check your local laws about fundraising. 

City, county, and state governments all have different rules about political fundraising, and you need to be familiar with the rules in your area. The laws about campaign finance outline who is allowed to contribute to your campaign, how much they can contribute and what you have to report. Breaking one of these could end your political run before it really began. 

2. "Get your 100 people." 

"The thing that everyone told me is to 'get your 100 people,'" Duffy said. "Call those people and ask them for their support in the upcoming election."

Duffy said candidates should call people to ask for their support when they decide to run, and meet with organizations that could potentially give endorsements and attract donations. 

"They typically have a questionnaire you will fill out, and then you will go in for an interview with representatives of that organization," he said. 

Duffy said it's also important to call the elected officials in your area and ask for their endorsement, because their supporters may turn and support you with campaign donations. 

3. Don't be afraid to ask friends and family for money, but don't rely on them either. 

Duffy said that friends and family can help with the campaign but you probably shouldn't rely on them for the bulk of fundraising. 

"I would say money is going to come from an organization that is already established. Friends will help, but it's a heavy lift to rely on just your friends and family," he said. "Those are the people that should be giving huge amounts of time. You will need lots of volunteers to run phone banks, canvasses, and community house parties just to name a few things."

However, Ruben Gonzales, the vice president of leadership programs at Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute told ATTN: via email that you should still ask friends and families for money. The institute trains political hopefuls on running for office. 

"Personal contacts are critical for early fundraising – and they are the ones most likely to support your run," he said. "If you can’t imagine asking your aunt for money, it’s possible fundraising and campaigning is not for you.”

4. Go door to do, rain or shine. 

Wearing out your shoes by knocking on doors can help with garnering support and fundraising efforts, and it's the only way to win an election according to Duffy. 
"The best times to knock on doors is when it's raining," he said. "People know you mean business if it's snowing or raining out and you're trying to talk to them about school committee or planning board or whatever you're running for." 

Gonzales added that canvassing is crucial but that it should be done strategically, and the Victory Fund's campaign training institute teaches candidates how many votes they need based on expected turnout in that district and the number of total voters. 

"This analysis is critical to determining your voter outreach strategy,” he said. 

5. Learn who is giving money to your opponent. 

The Federal Election Commission clearly states, "Candidates must identify all PACs and party committees that give them contributions, and they must identify individuals who give them more than $200 in an election cycle. Additionally, they must disclose expenditures exceeding $200 per election cycle to any individual or vendor."

Campaign contributions are publicly listed by either local or statewide elections commissions, depending on the office you're seeking. A quick perusal of these sites can give you a better snapshot of your opponents' fundraising approach. 

"A great thing to also do is pull your opponents [campaign finance] report and see where their money is coming from," he said. "This will let you know if they have local support or if their support comes from outside district."

Duffy added one bit of personal experience that may sound disheartening to young people looking to disrupt the political establishment. 

"I know that nobody wants to hear this, but if you are going to run for a seat that is above city level, you are going to need the support of a major political party," he said. "I know some people get in as independents, but they are the exception, not the norm."

However, as the recent Democratic presidential primary demonstrated, it is still possible to run a grassroots campaign while affiliated with a major party. 

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