Political Careers: Cushy Or Crushing?
The 2010 midterm elections are just around the corner, and several seats on the national, state and local level are up for grabs. If your goal is to launch a campaign this year, you may already know that although you are taking on the noble endeavor of sustaining democracy - but campaigning isn't cheap. (How can the presidential election affect your portfolio? Find out, in The Market And Presidential Promises.)
Candidates seeking high-profile positions have often been wealthy. New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg spent more than $100 million for his close reelection battle against democrat William C. Thompson Jr., while republican Linda McMahon publicly vowed to fork over $50 million in her attempt this year to unseat U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, a democrat from Connecticut.
The cost of running for public office has skyrocketed at most levels. But if your goal is to run, evaluate the pros, cons and know the steps involved in running a campaign in order to budget the cost. (A president's campaign trail promises often come up against economic reality. Find out more in Talk Is Cheap: Campaign Promises And The Economy.)
The Pros of Running for Office
Stepping into the political arena includes the following benefits.
- Develop Your Skills
Political candidates become the center of attention, and they are seen as leaders. They will have the opportunity to improve their communication skills by fine-tuning their speeches before the media in interviews and debates.
- Build Your Confidence
Candidates shed their shyness. They continuously introduce themselves to the public and hold impromptu discussions about community needs and issues.
- Expand Your Networks
Candidates increase professional contacts through their push for financial campaign donations from corporations and organizations.
- Raise Your Stature
Candidates attend an array of events, from state fairs to regal fund raisers, allowing them to hobnob with major power players with deep pockets.
Of course, it's not all roses, when running for office. Some of the cons of hosting a political campaign include:
- It's Time-Consuming
Campaigning is hard work. A candidate's day is filled with public hearings, forums, issue preparations and briefings. This will mean time away from the family, work and limited hours of sleep.
- It's Expensive
Candidates will need to prepare financially for that time away from work, and for major campaign expenses, such as the headquarters, TV and radio spots and a staff of professionals that include a campaign manager and media relations, direct mail and fund raising consultants.
The financial costs may be the least of the candidate's worries, when compared to a background check. This typically involves a review of the candidate's finances, health and criminal activity. Many constituents believe they have the right to know a candidate's habits, character and shortcomings. Therefore, some media outlets will partake in an intrusive and informal personal review. Skeletons, such as arrests, lawsuits, convictions, marital affairs, major health problems, taxes issues or even club dues will be dug up and can influence a candidate's odds.
Candidates have to get up to speed on a broad range of topics. A public official will have to make quick decisions based on limited information, and will have to engage in swift political maneuvering. One or two wrong decisions may endanger reelection.
Here are seven tips to help:
- Evaluate your goals, write down your campaign plan and determine your political affiliation, and whether the party will support your bid.
- Assess your qualifications for the seat of interest.
- Recruit your campaign manager, consultants, family, friends and colleagues.
- Learn your constituents, community's issues, campaign laws and financial disclosures.
- Keep a time line for filing requirements and advertising deadlines.
- Identify your opponents' strengths and weaknesses, as well as your own.
- Attend meetings, volunteer and get on mailing lists.
Make sure the benefits outweigh the costs before you engage in a political career. This way you can meet fund raising demands, and not just become a front runner, but the winner.