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.
If 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.
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.
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.
Be sure you can answer these questions before filing your candidacy:
- 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?
- 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.
- Do I have relationships with local constituency organizations like labor unions or environmental groups that would support my candidacy with a donation?
- Do I have relationships with statewide organizations and Political Action Committees (PACs) based in Sacramento?
- Can I count on endorsements and fundraising help from other elected officials in my district? How can I use these to support my candidacy?
- 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?
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.