Ask the Campaign Doc: Six Answers for Committed Campaigners

Q: Should we have a policy summit to decide our positions before we announce my candidacy?   A: No, it would send the message that you don’t have any core values or issue positions and that you’re making them up as you go.


Q: Should we have a policy summit to decide our positions before we announce my candidacy?

  A: No, it would send the message that you don’t have any core values or issue positions and that you’re making them up as you go. Instead, write down the three major things that you want to do if elected, identify the major issues that concern voters in your jurisdiction, conduct a poll on how to discuss these issues and fill in enough programmatic details to show that you’re not just mouthing top-line slogans when you stump for votes.   Q: Are you a believer in voter modeling? Is it cost effective?   A: Yes to both, especially in volatile election environments in which persuadable voters are skeptical of all politicians and both major parties. Modeling will enable your campaign to create and test voter contact universes, set vote goals and provide the benchmarks for overall strategy, which will save money by not wasting resources on unpersuadable voters. Data to parse include party registration, voting history, age, gender, marital and employment status, issue interests (taxes, environment, healthcare, gun ownership, etc.), cable households and work commute (potential drive-time radio audience).   Q: Looks like we’re going to raise some “late train” money from donors who supported our opponent. I don’t think we’re going to be successful in appealing to them, but the fundraising consultant disagrees. We will be discussing this issue over the next couple of months——any advice?   A: If you don’t ask, you will indeed fail. But if you do ask, you may be surprised by how eager and pragmatic some opposition donors are (e.g., “I was with you all the way, but I had to give to your opponent because my business partner went to college with him and we had no choice,” etc.). “Late train” donations will help you pay for administrative overhead in the off-year, and it will send a strong message to future opponents that you intend to do everything necessary to win re-election.   Q: I need to know what to do about payroll. How much should we pay? Should we use a payroll service?   A: Staff salaries depend on the size of the race and experience of the personnel (e.g., the manager in a state rep campaign will not make as much as the manager in a statewide gubernatorial contest), so there’s no one answer to “how much?” As for using a payroll service, absolutely do so—it will cost less, reduce in-house paperwork and ensure more accurate withholdings and reporting to federal, state and local authorities.   Q: I’m one of several officials considering a run for Congress in 2012 and I need an opinion about announcing early versus waiting until closer to the election.   A: Getting in early is a double-edged sword. It’s a great way to grab attention if you’re not a frontrunner, and that helps open doors to potential funders. But it also means you could spend all your early money before a single vote is cast—so be frugal. An early announcement, especially for candidates not perceived as top tier, should be coupled with a non-traditional approach in order to allow that candidate to use resources sparingly in the early going.   Q: Can we get a filing extension for our FEC report?   A: No, you cannot get an extension. The FEC does not have authority to extend any filing deadlines. All reports and other filings are due on or before the established filing deadline. Failure to file reports on time can result in penalties ranging from $30 to $16,000—or more for repeat late and non-filers.   Craig Varoga has run local, state and presidential campaigns for twenty years and specializes in independent expenditures as a partner at Independent Strategies. Send questions using Facebook or email cvaroga@independentstrategies.com.

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