Campaign Budgeting 101 – Administrative Costs of Running for Public Office

office-supplies campaign budget run for public office administrative costs

What are administrative costs?

Because “administrative” covers the bare bones basic supplies you’ll need to run your campaign, and because it’s a category that is essential in practically any business-like venture, we are going to start your campaign for public office here.

First thing’s first.  What are administrative costs?  Administrative costs start with everything in the ‘office supply’ category, like ink, paper, a printer, a computer, a stapler, etc. and can lead all the way up to the costs associated with staffing.  I like to include staff salaries into the ‘administrative’ category rather than making them a part of other categories, because it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re actually spending money on when you include your Communication Director’s pay check along with all your paid advertising.

Set a budget limit for each category.

Here is my number one, never-ever-break, rule of assigning administrative funds:  Administrative costs should never exceed 10% of the total budget.  And ideally, you should strive to spend less than you budget in this category.

Why do I set this rule?  Primarily because it keeps you from wasting money on hiring people and renting an office.  You don’t need an office.  No candidate needs to pay for an office.  If you really think you need an office, borrow one, or turn the spare bedroom into an office.  You don’t need to pay for an office.  Comparatively, it is a huge waste of money.  I don’t care if someone is offering you a serious deal.  Don’t sign a lease, don’t rent an office.  Just don’t.

Don’t assume anything.

If you’re reading this blog, the chances that you’re running for president or governor or even Congress are pretty slim.  So you don’t need an office.

You really don’t need staff.  At least certainly not in the beginning.  Unless you are indeed running for one of the above mentioned public offices, the only paid staffer you may eventually need is a campaign manager, and even then that’s a big ‘maybe.’

Just because a ‘traditional’ campaign has a ‘campaign headquarters’ and an ‘office manager’ and tons and tons of notepads with the candidate’s name and logo on it does NOT mean YOU need those things.  In fact, none of those things will have any impact on whether or not people vote for you.  And isn’t that the real goal here?

Guesstimate, research, and cut.

So what the heck should your administrative costs be?  Using the rough figure we determined earlier of $50,000, a 10% administrative budget would be $5,000.  That’s a lot of paper, right?  For now, we are going to say that’s the absolute most your campaign will be allowed to spend on administrative costs.

Now you need to:

  • Make a detailed lists of supplies your campaign will need
  • Research the cost of each item on the list
  • Find ways to reduce or completely wipe out the expense of each item

Hopefully you can cut that number down even further by using office equipment you already own or can borrow, building your own website, etc.  Here’s a list of typical administrative costs and some suggestions on how to lower them:

  •  Office Equipmentbeg, borrow and steal your own and any that other folks will lend you.  If you have some supporters in business, ask them if you can use their office equipment after quittin’ time.
  • Office Supplies – you probably have a healthy supply of pencils, pens, paper, binder clips, etc. that you can claim for your campaign HQ.  Those will run out quickly, however, and you’ll need a source for cheap supplies.
    Always ask supporters and volunteers for extras like this – you’d be surprised how many people have a ton of envelopes, leftover thank you cards, pencils, post-it notes, and other random stuff that they have been trying to ‘use up’ or get rid of somehow for years.
    After that, assign a volunteer to watch for deals at office supply stores and places like Target or Walmart – back to school sale time ironically coincides with when you’ll need to start stocking up on this stuff!
  • Office Space – I’ve always been able to score free or insanely cheap office space.  You don’t really need an official campaign headquarters outside of your home until about 3-6 months prior to your election, and you can push that later if need be.  You will have to dedicate some space in your home or garage (or that of a good friend or volunteer) to the campaign just for organization’s sake.   However, when you’ve reached the point that you’re utilizing large groups of volunteers or need to run operations on a daily basis, there are several ways to avoid actually paying for it.  Here are some examples of how I’ve managed this; maybe one of these will spark an idea for you:
    • I once had a candidate that ran his own small business out of a rented office.  There was another office in the same building that hadn’t been used for months; we asked the landlord if we could use it for the campaign until he got it rented, and he let us!
    • In one county I worked in, the GOP HQ along with the congressman’s campaign HQ and a couple of state reps’ campaign HQs were all offices within one large building owned by a fairly well-off landowner/businessman in town.  He let the GOP and local candidates use it for next-to-nothing.
    • When I travelled to manage campaigns for PACs and interest groups, I would ask them to rent a small apartment month-to-month instead of put me up in a hotel.  This way I was able to use the space for anything from envelope stuffing parties to yard sign storage.
    • Lots of business owners, lawyers, accountants, etc. are Republican and will gladly lend their space – often already equipped with multiple phone lines – for activities after business hours, which is when most volunteer activities happen anyway.
    • Important Note:  Anything donated to or borrowed by the campaign, including ‘free’ rent, must be listed on your campaign finance reports as in-kind donations, and there is often a limit to the total dollar value that can be given.
  • Paid Staff – most local campaigns don’t need paid staff, either full or part time.  Some, however, will.  As with the office space, wait as long as possible to make this expenditure – aim for the final 3 months of the campaign and no more than 6 months of the campaign.
    Utilize natural resources for free staff – offer internships to high school and college students, for example.  There are always people out there who want to ‘get into politics’ and are looking for hands-on, real world experience.  You can give it to them.
Those subcategories cover anything that may fall into the administrative section of your budget.  Remember these 3 budgeting keys:
  1. Make the first draft of your budget based on actual costs at the best price you can get them, and then cut and save as much as you can.
  2. Never spend more in administrative costs than absolutely necessary.
  3. The more money you have for making contact with the voters, the better!

One thought on “Campaign Budgeting 101 – Administrative Costs of Running for Public Office

Leave a Comment