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 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 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!

Constitutional Requirements for Serving as POTUS

Yesterday was the inauguration ceremony for the 44th Presidential term. The occasion prompts me to write this post on the constitutional requirements for a citizen aspiring to serve as President. 

Those requirements are breathtakingly simple: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.” Article II, Section 1, paragraph 5.

Born citizen of the US, at least 35 years of age, and must have lived here for at least 14 years. That’s it?! A quick look at 2010 estimates of age/gender distribution on Wolfram Alpha shows us that over 75 million men and well over 81 million women meet the age requirement. That’s 156 million people, or about half of our total population. Of course the data is not perfect or clean – it is just age and gender distribution of the population. Some percentage is not a U.S. Citizen (born or naturalized), may not have lived in the country for 14 years, etc. But the point is that A LOT of people are constitutionally qualified to serve. How we end up with an ostensible TWO candidates each election boggles the mind and will be explored in future posts.

Unfortunately, if you qualify and would like to run for President yourself, it’s not as simple as folks walking into the voting booth and writing your name in as their choice. We’re dealing with bureaucracy after all! As such there are legal requirements and compliance procedures that must be met and followed for those votes to be legally counted. The thrust of this blog/project is to document the process that qualifies write-in votes for a candidate to be legally counted. The candidate in question will be myself and to understand my motivation you can read my first post.

Ambition Should Be Made of Sterner Stuff

“Ambition should be made of STERNER stuff” – Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 2, 91-94

Well now, how’s that for bold?! Not bold in the sense that old Bill wrote it, but in the way I’m using it to open my first post. And even more so in the way my Great Grandfather was inspired by the phrase to choose the name ‘Sterner’ at Ellis Island as a Swedish immigrant. He arrived with the family name Gustafson and, having chosen Shakespeare’s works to teach him English, announced STERNER when prompted for a NEW name in his NEW country.

Now how do I honor his bold choice and what does this blog have to do with it? To put a fine point on it, I intend to run for President of The United States of America (POTUS) in every election for the rest of my life. The election of 2016 will be the first in which I meet every constitutional requirement for holding the office of the Presidency. Before you dismiss this as fringe lunacy, read on and allow me to explain.

The political state of affairs in America is at an all-time low, with such ideological polarity and two-party dominance that I, like so many Americans, am fed up with the platforms supporting our two main parties. Every election cycle the predictable deception, pandering, and vitriol of both parties is on display for the American electorate. Intense effort is made by each party to differentiate themself from the other. And while they are indeed separated by an ideological gulf, the governing record of both in power is remarkably close in shoreline. So what appeared to be a stark choice during the election amounts to the same old governance we’ve all grown to loathe.

And around one year in advance of the quadrennial election, the voting public can be heard saying, in millions of conversations, ‘well I don’t like either party/candidate very much, so I will just vote for the lesser of two evils’. I demand we ask WHY we feel the need to settle for what appears to be the lesser of two evils. What compels us to buy into this manufactured choice? Is it because we’re so convinced the party most representative of our opposing ideology will govern as such? Is it because we’re so convinced that the party most representative of our favoring ideology will be so superior? I suggest yes on both counts. And I suggest we’re wrong in falling for this false choice. There must be a better way.

I have decided personally to no longer compromise my political beliefs; our government is one By The People, For The People. And as such my positions are just as credible as any other American’s, whether that American is carefully groomed for power by party elite or reduced to a statistical ‘voter’ by the same elite.

So I am beginning my own political experiment by running for POTUS myself from here on out. No more compromise, no more choices for the ‘lesser of two evils’. If on my deathbed I can look back and say that, politically, I always voted for the candidate who BEST represented MY beliefs, then I will be a satisfied man. Beginning now, that candidate is me. And if the only legally counted vote I receive in each election is my own then so be it. If it inspires others to make the same choice, then all the better. I hope my experiment leads their way or at least assists them in discovering great candidates organically.

I will use this blog to document my journey: obstacles, successes, failures, and frustrations. As I write this I don’t know if my name will legally qualify as a write-in vote – in my home state or others – in 2016. But I’m going to make one hell of an effort to make it so.

Thomas Jefferson expressed my motivation best when he said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it“. Our founding fathers set forth simple requirements for citizens aspiring to the office of the Presidency. Those requirements should make my quest a highly viable one, but what inconveniences I encounter along the way remain to be seen.

Welcome to my journey and thank you for your interest.