How To Run & Win Without Taking PAC Money


There is a lot of information that could be included in a discussion of campaign tactics for the candidate who does not want to take special interest political action committee money (PAC). If you're thinking of running for office as that candidate, here are some principles to follow:

1.     Personal contact with voters.  Meet the voters and let them meet you. Go out walking door to door. Hold town meetings or coffees. Make phone calls.  You won’t be able to meet all of the voters in your district but if you meet as many as possible you will create a buzz that you are accessible, which will be a great assistance to your campaign. You will also have a more comprehensive sense for what your constituents want and how to help them.

2.    Emphasize one issue. Unless you are running for President, there is a great danger that your message is going to be lost in the noise of numerous campaigns. You will be lucky if, at the time of the election, the voter can attach you to one issue. In order to create this identification you will need to consistently emphasize that one issue in your speaking, campaign literature and media.

3.    If you aren’t taking special interest PAC contributions emphasize this issue. Numerous polls show that voters are disgusted with big money in politics. If you are the only candidate in the race foregoing that money, make sure that the voters know this. It creates a clear distinction on an issue that is of growing importance. By the time of the election, the voters will be totally sick of special interest financed ads. You will stick out as someone who opposed them.

4.    Raise money from individuals. There are many contributors who would be inclined to support a candidate who does not take PAC contributions. Hold fundraisers in your district among regular people. You will get a large number of small contributions, but those people will also talk you up and volunteer.  

5.    Use new-fangled technology like the "internets." (We actually know that it is called the “internet.” It's a joke.) But seriously use all of it-- Facebook, Twitter, send emails. It is a way to communicate with less money, and it is the wave of the future. You might as well learn to use it now.

6.    Use volunteers. Treat them well. Make them think that they are important, because they are.

7.    Be respectful of your opponent. We know this could be hard, but you are not merely trying to get elected. You also want to be able to govern when you are in office and that requires cooperation with people with whom you may disagree. Slash and burn campaigns elect some candidates but they destroy the respect necessary to govern later. Voters will appreciate a candidate who is honest and respectful.

8.     Give voters useful information. Put up a calendar of important dates on your website such as, registration deadline, party caucuses, county and state assemblies, primary dates, early voting dates. You might want to put a sample ballot on your website. This will cause people to forward your link around because it is useful.

9.    Don't listen to cynics. There will be many people who tell you that the voters can’t think for themselves and that they will just vote based on mindless name-recognition commercials. They will disagree that it matters how you conduct your campaign because, they will tell you, the voters don’t care if you are respectful and honest. Remember this: cynicism is surrender. Try to think of a great advance in our country that was accomplished by a cynic.

10.     Remember why you are running for office. We assume that it is to improve your community. (By the way if it isn’t, stop reading and hit yourself in the eye.  There, you deserved that.) Unfortunately many candidates have no further agenda than to get elected. These are the candidates who don’t mind damaging the political process. But if you care about education, or having a more efficient government, or health care, or national security-- whatever it is-- you want a political process that works, and for that, you need to run your campaign the same way you will be in office, and that is honest and respectful.

If you'd like more info including tips on how to respond to attack ads, how to message this issue, campaign finance facts, and other bits of information you can use to reach voters using this iissue, check out this briefing book by like-minded organizations, Friends of Democracy and Public Campaign Action Fund.

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  • commented 2013-05-18 15:26:01 -0600
    Ken, your ten principles are excellent. I would recommend that your congressional candidates in particular pick an issue for which there is widespread support including Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

    The foremost issue is to end Congressional corruption. There can be many approaches toward achieving this, various election reforms, publicly funded elections such as New York or Arizona, ending the “revolving door” between congressmen and their aides and corporations and lobbying firms. This also has a detrimental effect when it is officials in the Administration and those Businesses that they have regulatory responsibilities over. More should be done to improve congressional rules to discourage grandstanding and wasting time and money such as voting more than 30 times to abolish the affordable care act. Changing Congressional Rules to reward collaboration, and penalize partisanship.
    .By championing an issue like this ending congressional corruption, candidates greatly increase the number of small donors that are likely to contribute. Hope this is helpful.

    Best Wishes, Glenn Wallace, Evergreen
  • commented 2012-06-23 15:09:26 -0600
    Remember that you are running to be a citizen advocate for all of the people.
  • commented 2012-05-17 17:20:54 -0600
    Cool. Thanks for doing this.
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