Filing & Money: When Should I File and How Much Do I Need to Raise?

by Alex Gillis and Betsy Cotton

Two common questions prospective candidates ask are, “When should I announce my candidacy and how much money do I need to raise to be viable?”  For most candidates it is a surprise that these two topics -announcing your candidacy and fundraising – should be considered together.

A candidate’s ability to raise money is an important measure of their ability to win.  When you announce, you should be ready to show your fundraising strength.

Filing Strategy

filingIf you are considering a run in 2016 and want to get an early start on your campaign, filing in April 2015 makes sense if you’ve got a fundraising plan in place.  If you need more time to lay the groundwork for your campaign, plan to file in July.  Choosing to wait to file until after the mid-year fundraising period closes at the end of June gives you six months to fill your coffers before the end-of-year contribution period closes on December 31st. Check the Fair Political Practices (FPPC) website for their 2016-filing schedule so you can plan accordingly.

Fundraising Strategy
To be a credible candidate for the California legislature, it is advisable to raise at least $100,000 by the first FPPC reporting deadline following your announcement.  Whether you can raise this amount in the first 3 to 6 months of your candidacy should be a serious consideration in determining whether you are ready to run.

With this in mind, plan ahead so you know where your first $100,000 – $150,000 will come from, how you will raise it and when you will have it in hand.  Even though you cannot accept checks prior to filing as a candidate, you can develop a fundraising plan before filing an intention to run with the Secretary of State’s office.  Be aware that contributions to state candidates and to committees that make contributions to state candidates are subject to contribution limits which are available on the FPPC website.

Pundits and stakeholders pay particular attention to a candidate’s first filing of the election cycle.  Raising significant funds out of the gate signals that you are a serious candidate and will enable you to attract more attention and support.  Aim to give yourself the maximum time to raise campaign funds by filing your intention to run as close to the beginning of a fundraising period as possible.  Remember that the most difficult time to raise funds for political campaigns falls between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

The amount you will need to raise depends on the district, the level of competition, your allies, and your political party backing.  For example in 2014, incumbent Democrat Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (AD 52) raised just under $400,000 for a safe democratic Inland Empire seat, while San Francisco’s Assemblymember David Chiu (AD 17) raised $1.5 million in this hotly contested “Dem-on-Dem” open-seat race.  Similarly, Democrat Senator Connie Leyva (SD 20) raised just $750,000 in her successful bid to fill an open seat in a heavily democratic district vacated by Norma Torres compared to more than $3.5 million Republican Senator Janet Nguyen (SD 34) raised in her very competitive Orange County open-seat race.  For district specific breakdowns of how much each candidate raised in 2014, visit Maplight, a Berkeley based nonpartisan research organization.

Fundraising Details

During the months prior to filing, organize a database of potential donors and catalogue donors according to their capacity to give.  Determine who can help raise money, host events and identify prospective donors.  Start by reaching out to your most faithful friends, family, classmates, co-workers and social circle to see what they might be willing to do for you.  Be sure to set up meetings with current and former legislators and local elected officials to test the waters.

Additionally, since local constituency organizations, statewide organizations, and PACs are important fundraising channels, use your existing relationships to help you identify possible campaign funds within these groups.  If you don’t know who to call, ask a friend for an introduction.

moneyBe sure you can answer these questions before filing your candidacy:

  1. How much have I raised before? From whom? Will they give again?  How much can I count on from my donor base?  Who is my fundraising base?
  2. Do I know where my first $100 K – $150 K will come from? Can I assign a contribution amount to every prospective donor? Catalogue it.  Confirm it.
  3. Do I have relationships with local constituency organizations like labor unions or environmental groups that would support my candidacy with a donation?
  4. Do I have relationships with statewide organizations and Political Action Committees (PACs) based in Sacramento?
  5. Can I count on endorsements and fundraising help from other elected officials in my district? How can I use these to support my candidacy?
  6. Do I need to engage a local consultant who has proven fundraising experience and knowledge in my district or can a member of my campaign team head up the fundraising effort?

Additional Resources:

National Institute on Money in State Politics: Look up a district and research which groups have contributed.
Around The Capitol: Subscribers of Around The Capitol can learn the amount of campaign funds raised in each district this election cycle.
close the gap CA List of PACs: Political Action Committees provided on the close the gap CA website.
What Makes a Winning Candidate: For more discussion on how to be strategic in releasing fundraising news and key endorsements, listen to close the gap CA’s webinar.
Blog Post: “How to Raise $100,000” by Angela Lyonsjustus.
Emily’s List, Emerge, NWPC, Run Women Run: Training programs that provide fundraising advice.

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How to Raise $100,000

By Angela Lyonsjustus

money bagLet’s face it, raising money is often the biggest hurdle for first time candidates.  At first, the goal of raising so much money can seem daunting.  However, many first time candidates reach and exceed this fundraising goal.

The California state contribution limit in Assembly and Senate races is $4,200 per election for individuals.  An individual donor can give this amount in both the primary and general election since each is considered a separate election under California law.

So how do you start?  Begin by breaking up the $100,000 into several different strategies so the goal becomes more manageable.

  1. MAJOR DONORS Start with your most committed supporters and those most likely to give you the maximum donation. These are people you personally visit or call to ask for a contribution and be sure to ask their spouse for a contribution as well!
  1. EVENTS Do you have supporters who would be willing to host an event for you? Identify people in your network who would invite 20-30 guests to their home to hear you speak and who would ask these friends to contribute. Several events like this can really add to your fundraising numbers.
  1. ONLINE GIVING It is easy to overlook the importance of small donations. They truly do add up. It is worth an investment of staff time to develop a substantial online presence and create a targeted fundraising “ask” through social media and emails.  Online contributions can account for a reliable, if modest, portion of your goal.
  1. ISSUE INTEREST PACS Identify your strongest base of support: environment, education, labor, social justice. All important issues and causes have advocates and organizations who promote their cause and most can aid you by donating early in the campaign.
  1. NEW FRIENDS Finally, political handshaking can lead to more than just endorsements. Take note of the groups you meet with and whether they can aid in your fundraising efforts. Some will donate to your campaign, while others can solicit their members.  Be sure to ask them all for a donation to your campaign.

Depending on the size of your campaign, I recommend having one campaign staffer dedicated to fundraising.  Between creating call sheets, communicating with event hosts and donors, monitoring donations and submitting records to state agencies, the hours add up to a full time position.

A campaign cannot run without a robust fundraising operation, however, the most important piece of a successful political fundraising plan is you, the candidate.  We at close the gap CA believe each woman running for office can be a successful fundraiser if she will devote the time to learn the ropes, the focus to become a skilled solicitor and the discipline necessary to “ask” regularly.


Follow the money is a great resource to see how much money was raised in your district in past elections.

PACs that will support women legislative candidates.

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