Run for Office

So you want to run for office? That’s great! Public service is one of the best ways you can give back to your community. There are many things to consider…

Disclaimer: Where your fate is concerned, consult the relevant law and/or a lawyer. The following is general advice, not legal consul.

If you have advice to add, or would like to see another topic covered here, come to our next group meeting or reach out to us on the social network of your choice!

Qualifications

Current employment: Are you currently employed by the federal government, or by state or local government? Does your employer receive any federal funding what so ever? The Hatch Act prevents federal government employees from running for office. If your employer receives federal funding, you must quit your job the day you file to run for office. Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett ran into this issue during his first term because his former employer the Hamilton Center receives federal funding. Additionally in the State of Indiana, outgoing governor Mitch Daniels signed ethics reform in 2011 that prevents people from both being employed by and setting the salary of a division of local government. For example, you can no longer be a fire fighter and be on city council (which deliberates on fire fighter contracts). Winners of the 2011 municipal elections were excluded. Under legislation being considered in 2012, these employees could still run for office but would have to quit the day they won the election. Legislation is also being considered to fight nepotism and cronyism (the employment of relatives and family friends) in local government. Regardless of the final fate of this legislation, you should consider how the public will perceive your running for office given your current circumstances. Even if something is not (yet) illegal, there may still be a conflict of interest that may work against you while you’re running.

Residency: This should go without saying, but with very few exception you must reside within the district of the office you’re running for.  Former Secretary of State Charlie White ran into this issue when he moved out of his district and “neglected” to tell the Fishers town council he served on and drew a salary from. Then he ran for and won Secretary of State using his out-of-date address so the courts removed him from office. Long-time Senator Lugar is under fire because while the Indiana Constitution allows the state delegation to DC to keep an Indiana address (whether they live there or not), the US Constitution requires them to be an “inhabitant” of the state he or she is elected to represent at the time of the election and Lugar hasn’t lived here since 1977. In general, be honest and keep your paperwork up to date and you should be fine.

Length of Residency: For most local offices, you must be a resident for one full year before the date of the general election. For certain higher offices, you must be a resident for longer. To run for Indiana Governor for example, you must live in Indiana for five consecutive years prior to running. To run for Indiana State Representative, you must have lived in Indiana for 7 years and in the district you wish to represent for 1 year. To run for Indiana State Senate, you must have been a US citizen for 2 years and lived in the district you wish to represent for 1 year.

Age: For most local offices, you must be at least 18. For certain higher offices, you must be older. To run for Indiana Governor for example, you must be 30 years of age. IN Rep is 21, IN Senator is 25, US Rep is 25, US Senator is 30, US President is 35.

Fundraising

In order to win, you will have to raise money. When considering whether or not to get into a race, there are two key numbers to calculate. They can both be called your “number to win.” One is how many votes you need (generally one more than your competitors) and the other is how much you need to raise. You don’t necessarily need to out-raise your opponents, but you do need enough to fund your Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy. Strategy is how you win a race, not dollar signs. I highly suggest you read up on the topic of campaign strategy as it is too complex to cover here. Your strategy may entail being seen at certain events, having the most yard signs, doing direct mailers, etc. Each of these strategic components has a price associated with it. Whether that price is determined in dollars or volunteer time is up to you, but you need to budget for both and then come up with a way to achieve that budget.

Pay close attention to campaign finance laws. You have to gather additional information from individuals donating large amounts to your campaign, and unions and corporations have a cap of how much they can donate per year to your campaign. You have to use a separate bank account if your campaign will be raising or spending more than $250.

Paperwork

The County Clerk’s office is the one stop shop for your campaign paperwork at the local level. If you’re running for State Rep or higher, you instead file directly with the Secretary of State. Pay close attention to the filing deadlines for each type of paperwork. You can optionally first create an exploratory committee, and then create your candidate’s committee. Both types of committees can raise funds. In Indiana, the candidate can declare himself the Treasurer and Chair, although it is recommended that you find someone outside of your immediately family just as committed as you are to fill those roles. Note that you have to file a special disclosure form whenever a large donation is made. Although you do not have to itemize small donations and expenses in your paperwork, you do still have to account for them, so it’s best to keep detailed records of all finance items.

Public Speaking

Being a candidate means having thick skin and being able to verbally articulate your vision. You will be invited to at least one public debate, and you better come prepared. Practice speaking the themes of your campaign, and practice returning any discussion to them. Outside of debates, you’ll be soliciting donors and trying to convince the general public to vote for you. Everyone has their own concerns, and will want to know how you will help them directly. Sometimes the office you’re running for might not even involve their concerns, but you still need to convince them that you’re on their side if you want their vote.

Parliamentary Procedure

Finally, it’s imperative that you read and understand Robert’s Rules of Order. There are many guides to this, and if you’ve ever taken part in a school government or any organization with by-laws you’ve probably gotten a good dose of what this is about. But lately a number of radicals have been getting elected across the country who have no grasp of civility. Don’t be one of them. Know how to run a meeting and you’ll be a more effective politician.

Further Reading

It’s important to read campaign strategy from a diverse set of viewpoints. The following links do not imply endorsement of the author or party. They’re just good reads on various ways to run a campaign.