The War Chest: How Much Money Do You Need To Raise In Order To Run for President?

In the buildup to every Presidential election, we’re subjected to headlines related to campaign fundraising. Early in the campaign cycle they begin as brief mentions along with other candidate news, but as time-to-election dwindles, much attention is paid to the war chest assembled by each campaign. Why does this matter? Does the amount raised by either candidate influence voter choice? To me the fundraising numbers mean nothing. Perhaps because I’m not a billionaire donor seeking influence and favor. But it gets so much attention in the media that surely it must matter, right?! After all, doesn’t The Leviathan Media (TLM) report on matters of solemn importance?! Nevermind that last question; I’ll stay out of rabbit holes in this post.

Let us consider for a moment what marquee candidates spend campaign funds on. Without having firsthand knowledge, we can safely assume that there are salaries & wages to campaign staff, overhead expenses like office space, and travel/lodging/dining costs. But those do not add up to tens of millions – or billions – of dollars. A quick look at fec.gov records shows us that for the 2012 election, Barack Obama’s campaign raised $717.5M and Mitt Romney’s raised $449.3M. All candidates combined raised over $1.3 billion. I don’t understand all the nuance in PAC/Super PAC reporting guidelines so for simplicity’s sake I’m just using these figures provided by the FEC. $1.3B….that’s a lot of money! And it’s raised & spent every four years, making campaign finance an industry unto itself. Fundraising figures aside, let’s get back to expenditures.

Unfortunately the links on fec.gov to the last reports of each campaign are broken so I can’t say definitively where funds were spent. But without hard data, my gut tells me that the overwhelming majority of campaign funds are spent on advertising. Your gut probably agrees with mine because we’re all subjected to the same commercials run ad nauseam during the election cycle. Commercials that are run on every medium: television, radio, web, and print. Advertising is big business and premium ad space or air time is not cheap. So who profits from all of that advertising spend? Ah yes, The Leviathan Media. And whom, kindly recall, focuses with such fervor on campaign fundraising? Ah yes, The Leviathan Media.

Very few media outlets are independently owned and operated; most roll up to one of a handful of parent companies like Viacom, Comcast, and Time Warner (great interactive chart showing media ownership here). These are for-profit enterprises and much of their profit is derived from advertising revenue. So of course they’re going to hype the fundraising game because the more money the candidates raise, the more money the candidates spend on advertising. I don’t fault TLM for hyping campaign funds because that hype fans the flames of profit. It’s pure capitalism. But I do fault candidates and their campaigns for participating in a fundraising/advertising arms race. And I fault us voters for buying into the distorted messages delivered through those advertisements. If they weren’t so effective at influencing voter opinion, candidates wouldn’t spend such absurd amounts of money on them.

What is the DIY candidate to do? Well if you want to be a “serious” candidate for POTUS you probably do need hundreds of millions of dollars raised by a campaign. You’re going to need it to smear your opposition with advertising because – sadly – it works. Voters are more easily influenced than any would like to admit. You’re also going to need it to defend yourself from smearing by that same opposition. Parry and joust. It’s a true arms race between the party superpowers, and TLM is nothing more than an arms dealer. The cycle is as predictable as the sun rising and politicians lying, thanks to a constitutionally defined election every four years. There is good news however for the principled DIY candidate: you don’t need to raise a single copper cent to legally run for President!

According to FEC guidelines, no formal filing or compliance is required until you’ve raised or spent $5,000 in your quest for the Presidency. So as long as your campaign is contained to $4,999 you need only comply with regulations on a state-by-state basis. At the federal level, once you’ve raised or spent $5,000 you have to file a “Statement of Candidacy (FEC Form 2 [PDF]; Instructions [PDF]) authorizing a principal campaign committee to raise and spend funds on your behalf. Within 10 days of that filing, your principal campaign committee must submit a Statement of Organization (FEC Form 1 [PDF]; Instructions [PDF]).  Your campaign will thereafter report its receipts and disbursements on a regular basis.” This quoted text is copied directly from the FEC’s website. The ‘regular basis’ for campaign reporting is quarterly, with additional reporting requirements before and after the primary/general elections.

So in answer to this post’s headline question, ‘how much money do you need to raise in order to run for President’, the answer is: it depends. It can be as little as $0 or as much as hundreds of millions of dollars. The scale of your campaign and the degree to which you compete is entirely up to you. There is no financial requirement at the federal level to officially run for POTUS. For my own 2016 campaign I’m planning to go with the $0 option. As I’ve articulated in previous posts, I have neither a desire nor expectation to seriously compete for votes and win the Presidency. So there’s no need for me to enter the fundraising arms race. My motivation to run is rooted in the principle of awarding my vote to the candidate who best represents MY political beliefs at this time: me. But to make a write-in vote for Corey Sterner legally count – even if the only vote counted is my own – there are procedures that must be followed. Future posts will explore these procedures. This blog and my campaign twitter account are all I intend to use to broadcast my candidacy. We are only weeks into the 2016 election cycle so most of my early posts will focus on regulations, procedures, compliance, etc. As my understanding of campaign mechanics solidifies, my posts will shift my platform and positions. If the notion of running as a candidate yourself is intriguing, my early posts will help you make that notion a reality.

The maneuvering by candidates for the 2016 election began as soon as the official count was in to re-elect Barack Obama. Along with that maneuvering begins a new cycle of maniacal campaign fundraising. By now it should be clear to you that technically, not one cent needs to be raised by a constitutionally qualified citizen aspiring to the office of the Presidency. Here’s to hoping that I can successfully prove this technicality by making a write-in vote for Corey Sterner legally counted in November of 2016!

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