Political Campaign Finance: Donations, Contributions, Fundraising

So, do political candidates–even those running in small races–really need to be good at raising money and collecting donations in order to have a shot at winning on election day? Can you win a political campaign without concentrating on campaign finance, fundraising and soliciting contributions from your supporters?

political campaign financeAs a former campaign consultant and current elected official, this is a question I’ve heard a lot. Many people who get involved in politics on a local level do so because they want to serve their community and make a difference, and they don’t have the experience or desire needed to raise lots of political campaign cash.

In fact, I suspect that a lot of people who would make great elected officials don’t end up running for political office specifically because they hate the idea of having to concentrate on fundraising and donations. For these people, the necessity of campaign finance in politics is part of what is wrong with our political system, and soliciting contributions would, for them, be a very uncomfortable task.

But let’s get back to that important question: can you win a local election campaign without concentrating on fundraising, donations and contributions?

The simple answer is yes, it’s possible to win an election without raising money. Every election season, first-time political candidates across the country win races at the local level even in the face of better financed opponents. Hard work matters a lot in political campaigning, especially in local elections, and if you put in enough effort it’s certainly conceivable that you could win without raising a dime.

Now for the more complex answer: it’s a fact that the candidate who raises the most campaign money will be the winner in the majority of political races.

There are a few reasons for this. The first, of course, is that an abundance of money allows a candidate to purchase more campaign advertising, direct mail, yard signs and other resources. You may be the hardest working candidate in the world, but if you are facing a tidal wave of mail and advertising from your opponent in the final month of election season, then winning your race becomes enormously challenging.

There’s another reason why political candidates who raise the most money usually win the election: because lots of campaign donors usually means you have lots of supporters. While a few politicians might raise the majority of their money from a couple of wealthy contributors, most candidates who have plenty of cash in the bank usually collect it from a broad group of political fans.

And remember: if someone donates money to your campaign–even if it’s just a single dollar–then they are almost certain to vote for you on election day. They’ve invested in you, and they want to see that investment succeed.

So, in summary: yes, you can win a political campaign without stellar fundraising efforts, and a lack of money should never keep you from running for office if you have passion and commitment. But winning on election day against a better-funded opponent with a large base of contributors is exceedingly difficult to do.

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