You May Have to Self-Finance Your First Campaign, But NEVER Go Into Debt to Do It

Fundraising for a local campaign – especially your first local campaign – is often a difficult task. As I’ve said before, running for local office can be a lonely undertaking, and that extends to raising money, too. Even if you do a great job of identifying potential donors, contacting them for support, and organizing fundraisers, you might still be disappointed in the number and the size of the contributions you get.

You can’t really blame people for not wanting to write large checks to a candidate in a local election, though. Every dollar they give you is money they probably won’t see any return on, and local races just don’t inspire the same kind of emotion and enthusiasm that big campaigns do. Unless they have some personal or professional stake in who wins the seat, the majority of people usually aren’t very interested in local races. (That’s another reason why it’s vital that you write thank-you cards and show your appreciation for every donation you get . . . even a single dollar.)

As you might have guessed, it’s difficult to win your first local election if you don’t self-finance – or use your own money – to some degree. For some candidates, that means spending twenty bucks on postcard stamps; for others, it means investing a few thousand dollars from savings. (And it can be looked at as an investment, make no doubt; local elected officials do get paid, although it often isn’t much.)

political campaign finance

It’s up to you how much of your own money gets spent on your campaign; I’m not here to be your financial advisor. Lord knows I’ve spent lots of my own personal funds on campaigns over the years. I will give you one piece of important advice, though: don’t go into debt to finance your campaign. If the money isn’t already in your bank account, don’t use it.

Maxing out a credit card or taking out a personal loan to pay for campaign expenses simply isn’t a smart move . . . but it’s a mistake made every year by candidates in local, congressional, gubernatorial and even presidential races. Candidates become very emotionally invested in their campaigns, and it’s easy for them to make big financial missteps in the heat of the moment.

Losing an election is hard enough. It’s even tougher when you have to keep paying for it over years and years because of credit card debt you racked up on campaign expenses.

If you are going to spend your own money on your election, be sure that it’s in the form of a loan to your campaign. Simply writing a check out of your own bank account to finance a mailer – and then recording it as a donation from yourself – means that you can never get paid back for the expense. Instead, “loan” the funds to your campaign, and record it as such on your campaign finance reports. That gives you the ability to get reimbursed from your campaign later (if the campaign has the extra money to pay you back, of course).