Interested in helping the United States move toward more progressive policies on healthcare, child care, police brutality, criminal justice reform, education costs, student debt, and more? Did 2020 make you want to try running for office for the first time?...
This is the administrative guide to starting your campaign
Table of Contents
Registering As a Candidate
As the very first step in starting a political campaign, you’ll need to officially register to run for office. This step isn’t the same as registering to appear on a ballot—that comes later. Instead, this registration notifies the appropriate commission of your candidacy and allows you to form a political committee. You’ll need this registration to help substantiate your committee to banks and vendors, and when seeking campaign contributions.
The entity you register with will vary depending on whether you’re running for a federal, state, or local office. The general information required varies, but usually includes the following:
- Full name of candidate
- Mailing address (Depending on the office you’re running for, this information may become public. Most candidates use a PO box or compliance/treasurer address for this purpose).
- Office sought, including district
- Party affiliation
- Committee name
Guidelines for each office can be different—which means potentially different paperwork and requirements. You can, if desired get help navigating those aspects by working with a political consultant or compliance team with expertise in running for your office. But if you’d like to register yourself, there’s tons of information on each jurisdiction’s website.
We’ve listed resources below for federal elections and for elections in some of the larger U.S. states. These resources provide the specifics on what you need to do to get officially registered as a candidate in your race. Just remember, you’ve already done the hardest part—deciding to run!
- Federal Senate and Congressional, Federal Election Commission: Registering a Candidate
- Arizona, Arizona Secretary of State: Running for Office, County or Municipality Directory
- California (state and local), California Secretary of State: Campaign Filing Requirements
- Florida, Florida Division of Elections: Candidate Qualifying Information
- Nevada, Nevada Secretary of State: Filing for Non Judicial Office, Filing for Judicial Office
- New Mexico, New Mexico Secretary of State: How to Become a Candidate, Candidate Information Guide
- New York, New York State Board of Elections: Running for Office
- North Carolina, North Carolina State Board of Elections: Filing for Candidacy
- Ohio, Ohio Secretary of State: Forms and Petitions
- Texas, Texas Secretary of State: Candidate Information
- Virginia, Virginia Department of Elections: Becoming a Candidate
How to Open a Bank Account for Your Political Campaign
- How do I get a bank account for my campaign?
- Can I get a bank account for my campaign before setting up my campaign?
- Do I need/How do I get a Federal Employee Identification Number (FEIN)?
- Do I need a separate bank account for my campaign or can I use my personal account?
Once you register your campaign, you’re almost ready to set up your campaign bank account. Before doing so, however, you’ll first need to obtain a Federal Employee Identification Number (FEIN). The FEIN isn’t always mandatory, but it is required by most payment processors and banking institutions to open an account. Specifically, a FEIN helps banks and financial institutions identify your political committee as an entity and is often the way such institutions stay in compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and banking regulations.
To obtain an FEIN, you’ll need to submit an application online. Your FEIN will be issued as soon as your information is validated during the online application process. Certain banks may also require that you bring either your proof of registration or statement of organization, with you (as provided by your relevant election or campaign finance commission).
According to the FEC, your campaign bank account must be issued through one of the following: a national bank, state bank, or FDIC- or NCUA-insured institution. Let the representative at your preferred bank know you’re a political organization when setting up your account (it can sometimes help to call ahead, to ensure you meet with the right person once at the bank). You will need to open the account with your political committee name and FEIN.
Once your campaign account is a go, always remember this crucial point—political campaign funds must be kept separate from personal funds!
Do I Need Campaign Insurance?
Political campaign insurance can be helpful to address risk in a political campaign, just like it can be in your personal life. However, what type of coverage you purchase (and when you purchase it) can vary from campaign to campaign. Here are some example types of campaign insurance you might need:
- General Liability Insurance: May be required when you open a campaign office (as part of the lease).
- Workers’ Compensation: Usually required if you hire any campaign staff.
- Special Events (e.g., fundraising events): May be required by venues for larger events (post COVID-19, that is, once it’s safe to get back to doing in-person events).
You should consult with an insurance broker to discuss your individual campaign insurance needs.
- How do I start a political campaign fund?
First, you’ll need to get a Federal Employee Identification Number (FEIN) and set up a bank account. Then you’ll need to figure out how much funding you’ll need and start mapping out a plan to reach out for political contributions. Since you’re a first-time candidate, you may need to take out personal loans to start your campaign funds, which is a common practice, as this will demonstrate to potential donors that you’re serious about running for office.
- Is there any political campaign software that can help me get started?
Many software options are available to help get your political campaign off the ground. For instance, there’s software to help organize events, volunteers, fundraising, and more. You can also (likely) improve your results with political fundraising efforts and GOTV initiatives by utilizing voter contact and donor databases.
- What is a good political campaign website builder for launching my campaign?
A number of sites can help you easily build a professional-looking website (and by yourself if your budget is tight). Sites such as SquareSpace.com, Wix.com and WordPress are easy to navigate and offer political campaign website templates that allow you to customize your site without needing much knowledge about website building. These sites also allow you to have a custom domain name (which adds credibility to your site) and offer easy-to-implement options for collecting donor or voter emails and contributions directly from your campaign website.