Quote: Every day in America, pundits, press people and reformers decry the cost of political campaigns. “Why does it cost so much to get elected in this country?” they lament.
A good friend of mine strode into my office the other day and plopped down on my couch. “I want to run for office,” he announced.
I decided not to question his sanity, as I usually do when friends tell me they want to enter the political process. Instead, I decided to give him the usual barrage of questions I throw at prospective candidates. “Why do you want to run?” I asked. “What do you want to accomplish? Do you fit the district in which you want to run?” He answered the questions very well. For a moment, I thought he might actually be candidate material. Then I gave him the coup de grace.
“Can you raise the $500,000 it’s going to take to get elected, and are you willing to put your own money into the race?” I asked.
He looked at me very much like a person just coming out of a 10-year coma.
“How….how…how much money?” he stammered. “And who said anything about my OWN money?”
Like many first time candidates, my friend had assumed that it was enough he had decided to make time in his busy schedule for public service. What he hadn’t factored in is that while I might think he’s great and his family may love him, the rest of the district has never heard his name. And it’s not cheap to educate them.
The cost of campaigns forces even the most shy and quiet individuals to become fundraising machines. For those not familiar with advertising and marketing, the whole process must seem rather sinister and distasteful. Candidates have to raise money from a variety of sources. With limited exceptions, they must take contributions from developers, lobbyists, hospitals, unions and other special interests if they have any hope of getting elected.
Then these candidates get pummeled by the press and constituents for raising ungodly amounts of cash. You’d almost think they spent the cash on lavish parties and shopping sprees at Sax Fifth Avenue. Actually, candidates end up spending most of their war chests on very unexciting things like printing, mailing, television and radio commercials, phone banks, staffing and — my personal favorite of course — consulting fees.
These people who yell about the costs of campaigns have never had to educate an entire State Senate district of some 80,000 registered voters. Could they have any idea what it takes to mail just ONCE to that kind of universe? Using an average of 50 cents per mail piece (that includes production, printing and mailing), if you mail only one per household (not to every single voter), then your cost would be $30,000. Three of those, which would be almost minimum when you want to insure that your positions and name are well known in the district, and you’ve nearly spent $100,000.
Now add to that television commercials. Production of anything decent is going to cost between $5,000 and $7,500 — if not more. And a minimum purchase of television time at a level capable of reaching an entire Senate district will cost $20,000 to $50,000 per week. If you add radio to the media mix, production for two spots could run $750, and airtime for a two-week buy would cost $5,000 to $15,000.
Starting to see why campaigns cost so much?
If you plan on doing any kind of identification of voters (find out who supports you, who doesn’t and who is undecided), you need to hire a phone bank. Most charge by the completed call, but you’d better budget at least $5,000 to $10,000 for this part of the campaign.
Good campaign management is essential if you want to win, and fees depend on the amount of the overall budget of the race. In a $500,000 race, a good consultant would cost about $50,000 (some of that cost would come from commissions on media and printing). Other costs that could be tacked on include polling ($15,000 to $20,000 for a benchmark, $5,000 to $7,000 for tracking); print advertising ($2,500 to $5,000); buttons, stickers, pot holders or other give-aways ($1,000 to $2,500); billboards ($2,500 for production, $10,000 to $20,000 for rent); road signs and A-frame signs ($7,500 to produce, $3,000 for rent and placement); and staffing, ($5,000 to $7,500). All this could run more than $70,000. Again, these are all estimates, and would depend on the size of the race. They’re not far off, however, for a Senate district.
So when groups and committees yell and scream about the cost of elections and how our political system is so corrupt, perhaps they need to take a look at WHY elections cost so much. By the way, my friend decided his schedule was a bit too full to run after all.