As anyone who has run for office can tell you, the costs of a political campaign are high! As a first-timer going into the process the costs can quickly add up, and a lot of them are unknown. So I am going to go over some of the largest costs you will encounter when you decide to run for office.
If you haven’t already, or you’re unsure how to check out How to Run For the Office of Councillor in Alberta. Where the basics on how to get started are laid out step-by-step.
To begin, the costs I give for these materials are running for a municipal election in a Ward in Calgary, having approximately 100,000 people. This is a good median for Alberta as both provincial and federal ridings are approximately 100,000 people. However, if you are running a larger campaign, say for mayor. Or a smaller campaign in a small town that doesn’t have 100,00 people your numbers will scale accordingly. Also, note that these prices have a large range and that is for a good reason. There are local campaigns that spend $300,000 and lose. There are also campaigns that spend $1,000 and win. you know your area best, but use these numbers as a rough guide.
Some of the biggest expenses you will encounter throughout your campaign and as your run for office are:
1. Literature – $6,000 – $10,000
The term literature refers to many things when it comes to an election. But what I am referencing, in particular, is door hangers and mail-outs. I separate these two into different categories for good reason. Because they are used for different things, and depending on the size of the campaign you’re running you may need more of one than the other, or none of one.
Door hangers in this reference are the small, pamphlet-sized information slips you leave on people’s doors. Typically you leave these only on the doors of people who don’t answer. Or for people who do answer and want more information from you. They are a quick couple of bullet points and a ton of ways to contact you if they have any other questions. Because of the way they are delivered it shows that you care, you were at their house, and you went through the effort of leaving them with the information they need to get to know you. Typically you will need less of these than the mail-outs, but they are also more expensive. You can expect to spend about $60 per 1,000. Scale that to the size of every house in a city ward and you’ll be looking at about $6,000.
Mail-outs are the opposite of door hangers. they are not personally delivered, but rather, are sent via the mail to every single house in the area. Because you’re leveraging pre-existing labour (the mail carriers) and the entire network behind them, it ends up being significantly cheaper. But also, much less personable. Because of this, if you are only running in a small town where you have months of lead-up, you may not need to send mailouts. But if you are in a larger city it will be worth it. For city wards, you’ll be looking at about $4,000 for complete coverage of the area.
Note: If your campaign area has a significant amount of apartment buildings (more than 200 apartments in total or so), it will definitely be worth it to send mailouts. Unlike door hangers mailouts don’t require your physical presence to arrive. Speaking from experience, apartments are almost impossible to physically campiang in, so on of the only ways you will be able to speak with the residents of those buildings is to mail them your information.
2. Signs – $1,000 – $10,000
Signs are an important part of your campaign. They allow those people who haven’t heard from you to see your face and name. How much they cost will likely depend on how large of an area you are campaigning in and how many people live in it. The larger the area, the more signs. The larger the area, the larger the signs. The more people in the area, the more signs.
You will inevitably come across some very avid supporters of your campaign and they will request a sign for their lawn. These signs are key for visibility, and as a show of appreciation for those that support you the most. If someone is willing to put a sign on their lawn, it also means they are willing to talk to their friends, families, and neighbours about you and why you are the right choice. Embrace that.
In addition to these key signs on supporters’ lawns, you will also need signs in the major public places in your area. For many areas and towns, these areas are designated. For others (particularly large cities) there are simply prohibited areas, and everywhere else is allowed. Depending on how many of these areas there are in your area you could be looking at upwards of 500 signs.
Example: My good friend recently ran a campaign in Ward 1 in Calgary, a large ward with approximately 105,000 people. For his campaign we ran out of signs after ordering 750 lawn signs and 20 large signs. You may think your area isn’t that large but it adds up quickly. So always overbudget when it comes to your signs. You’d rather have extra for your next run than not enough for the people who want to support you.
3. Advertising – $0 – $Unlimited
Advertising is such a broad range because it greatly depends on the area you are running in. If you are running in a small town with very few candidates then you may not need to spend any money on advertising as word of mouth is enough. For larger centres, or a mayoral race you may have to spend every extra dollar you get on advertising. There are two major ways that you’ll spend this advertising money, and one will drive up the costs of your political campaign significantly more than the other.
Traditional advertising is advertising on TV, Radio, and print media. This form of advertising is significantly more expensive than every other form. Because of their wide-reaching nature of them, you will only be able to leverage these forms of advertising for large campaigns where you need to cover a lot of area. Think mayoral, provincial, or federal.
However, because these forms of advertising are so far-reaching they can be an invaluable tool in the larger races. And this ability to reach mass amounts of people on a station, or in a paper that already know and trust comes with a price. In the case of a large centre like Calgary, you could be looking at tens of thousands of dollars to advertise across these channels for the duration of your campaign. This level of advertising is a surefire way to drive up the costs of your political campaign.
Digital advertising is the more modern, more affordable, more targeted approach to advertising. It is lower cost and more easily narrowed towards the area and the people you want to reach. Because of this maneuverability, however, you will have significantly more competition in hotly contested races. This makes the price and the value of digital advertising a huge range. For smaller races in smaller towns, a small budget of $200 may get you advertising throughout your area every day of the campaign. For larger centres and larger races, you may need a budget of closer to $20,000 to get the same coverage.
With that said, digital advertising, if done right, can also be free. Think of Facebook pages, Twitter, and Instagram. Every political campaign nowadays should have an account on every single one of these platforms. Not only should you have an account, but you should actively use it. This means daily updates, unique content, and sharing important content your constituents will find helpful.
A website is an excellent companion to both previous forms of advertising, and should be the first thing you set up when considering running a paid advertising campaign. A website is a landing spot for those interested in your campaign. It allows you to showcase yourself, your platform, and give people with additional questions a way to contact you. It also allows you to gather volunteers to help hand out door hangers, collect donations, and so much more.
Starting a website, if you are able to do it yourself could cost as little as $50. If you feel the need to hire a company to create the perfect website for you and your campaign you can expect to pay anywhere between $500 and $2,000, depending on the company, the size of the website, etc. If you’re going to spend money anywhere, this should be one of the first places you do it. It will increase the costs of your political campaign but the returns you will get by having an online presence that is always working for you will pay off in a short amount of time.
4. Apparel – $0 – $2,000
Apparel is an interesting topic when it comes to adding to the costs of a political campaign. While some may qualify it as completely unnecessary, and a waste of money, I disagree. I don’t think a lot should be spent on apparel. But for a large campaign, where you will have multiple volunteers out and about on any given day it can be worth it. It gives a show to those you talk to that you are a team. You aren’t a random solicitor waiting to try and sell them something. Instead, it aligns you with the candidate you’re volunteering for and representing.
However, because teams vary dramatically in size this can change the cost of your campaign significantly. For some mayoral, or larger centre races you can expect to pay up to $2,000 just for apparel. This could be shirts, hats, etc. For a smaller campaign, or a campaign in a small town you may be able to get this apparel for free or at a low cost (depending on your local laws). Some businesses, in small towns especially, are willing to provide a couple of items (usually less than 5) for you to wear while you’re campaigning. Whether this is as a show of support, or in hopes that you will shout them out on your various platforms.
5. Fees – $100 – $1,000
Fees are a part of life everywhere, and running for office is no exception. For the purposes of this article I will discuss the fees to run in a local election in Alberta, which are as follows:
To run for the position of councillor in your town or ward is $100, plus you have to get the signatures of between 5 and 100 people who live in that area. If you get at least half of the number of votes as the last elected spot (if 6 people are elected you need half the votes 6th place got) then this deposit is refunded. If you don’t get that many votes then the deposit is non-refundable.
To run for the position of mayor in your town or city is $1,000 plus you need the signatures of between 5 and 100 people who live in your city. This deposit is refundable under the same conditions as those for councillors. If you get at least half of the number of votes as the winning mayor you will receive your deposit back in its entirety. If you don’t receive at least half as many votes, your deposit is non-refundable.
This means that depending on the position you’re running for your fees could be anywhere from $100-$1,000.
6. Vehicle Expenses – $500 – $5,000
Vehicle expenses are inevitable when running for office. Whether these vehicle expenses are incurred by running your own vehicle or by using Uber, a cab, or anything else. Running in an election is a very hands-on, face-to-face endeavour. This means that you have to get in front of as many people, and have as many conversations as possible. In addition to having face time, you will also need to transport and set up signs, both large and small, all throughout your area. This simply can not be done without a vehicle of some kind.
In addition to you needing to be out in the community and speaking with people, you may also have a team of volunteers that are out speaking with people in the community. While many of these volunteers will happily give you the time in their life some may not be willing, or even able to drive. This could involve paying for them to take a cab to set up signs, or paying for their bus fare to get to a neighbourhood you haven’t spoken with yet. All of these things can make vehicle costs one of the most important costs to your political campaign.
7. Time – $Unlimited
By far the largest cost to your political campaign will be your time. Even in small towns, if you are running a successful campaign, and trying to win it will become all-consuming. You will wake up every morning thinking about the campaign, go to sleep thinking about the campaign, and spend all of your free time working on the campaign. Not only will it take up all of your time it will likely take up all of your family’s time. Between speaking with people, designing and distributing your advertising, responding to questions, maintaining your social media presence, and everything else, you will spend countless hours working on your campaign.
Every candidate or elected official I have ever spoken with says the same thing.
The first time you run, you don’t understand how much time it truly takes.
When looking from the outside in a political campaign can seem silly, even trivial. But when you are in the midst of running one, especially in a large centre, it will consume every spare moment you have. From the moment you announce your candidacy to the day of the election. So when going into a political campaign, while you may be worried about the financial costs of a political campaign, what you should be aware of is the time cost of a political campaign.
Now that you know the approximate costs of a political campaign there is nothing left but to wish you good luck in your race! If you have any questions or want to discuss something I mentioned further feel free to leave a comment, message me on Twitter, or send me an email. I respond to everyone and would be more than happy to help you with the experience of someone who has run for office.