Checklist: Before You Run for Office

What you need to do BEFORE you file

✔ Know the authorities and the rules

Whether it is the FEC, state Division of Elections, county Supervisor of Elections, or City Clerk, your campaign will file paperwork with a government authority. Know who oversees your election, familiarize yourself with their website, and download their candidate handbook. This handbook will contain key information like: critical campaign dates and deadlines, rules for candidates and treasurers, and financial reporting requirements.

✔ Talk to local leaders

You probably already know some local leaders, but expand your network. Officers in the local party will be happy to sit down with a prospective candidate. Elected officials might be a little tougher, but reach out and try to talk to them about their experiences campaigning and governing.

✔ Assemble your team

Your core team may be only a couple of people, but work with your informal team (or “kitchen cabinet”) on setting up the campaign. The first month is a critical time and you want to hit the ground running. If you have the budget, it’s good to have your campaign manager or general consultant on board from the beginning. They will professionalize the campaign and make sure you don’t miss a beat. However, this is significantly more expensive than bringing them on later, so you’ll have to make a decision based on your own circumstances.

✔ Plan for initial expenses

Most campaigns use either VAN or PDI to get the voter data necessary for a field program - and they’re very useful for donor research, too. You’ll want to get whatever your local or state party uses to keep their data (usually VAN). Talk to them about prices so you know what you’re getting into. Also plan for other early expenses like staff. You need to be realistic about what you can pay out of pocket, and also about how much you may be able to raise over the course of the campaign.

✔ Create your contact list

A political campaign is a group effort. Before you start, you’ll need to lay out your entire network in an orderly way to see who may be able to support your campaign in a concrete way. The first step is to export all contacts from your phone, your email address, and any other contact lists you have. The next step will be rolodexing these contacts.

✔ Get an EIN

Your EIN or (Employer Identification Number) is like a social security number for your organization. Even if you have no employees, you’ll need an EIN to open a bank account. You get the EIN for your campaign from the IRS and it is a pretty simple process. Here’s the link to apply for your EIN online.

✔ Be ready to open a bank account on day one

You’re going to need a new bank account for your campaign with its own login information. It’s often easiest to just use a different bank than the one you use for your personal banking. In many jurisdictions, you cannot open a bank account for your campaign until you have officially filed to run. So review the first item in this checklist: know the authorities and the rules. Then go into a bank and speak with a banker. Let them know you need an account for your political campaign, get a list of everything you need to open that account, and schedule an appointment with them on the day you file for office. You really, really want to be able to take donations on day one.

✔ Plan your moves

It’s good to a) schedule out your first month, b) create your campaign plan, and c) develop your campaign budget early in the process. In addition to these key documents, try to have other documents ready to go as well: your logo, your messaging document, your letterhead, your website, etc.

✔ Fill out your paperwork

Fill out all your filing paperwork in advance and triple check it. Make sure you’ve filled out every form you need, that you have the location and schedule of the correct filing office, and that all of the dates and information on your forms is correct. This is a situation where it won’t hurt to run everything by someone with elections experience in the jurisdiction you’re running in - you don’t want to accidentally show up at the county office when you should be in the city office, or vice versa. Also, if at all possible, file with time to spare so you have a chance to resolve any unanticipated problems.

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