John Tsarpalas: As we are now in the local political campaign season with spring elections coming up upon us quickly and I have clients asking me questions, I was thinking you probably have similar questions. Let’s talk about political slates. This is Commonwealthy #75, Running for Office on a Slate.
So I have clients that are asking me about should they run on a slate, shouldn’t they run on a slate, how is this handled, how is this work with election law, and on and on and on and on.
And way back when, I think it was September of 2015, Commonwealthy #21, we did a podcast called Political Slates. I think that was with Kristina Keats and I talking. And so if you want to go back to that, there’s good information there. But I am going to give you some good information right now.
So you are thinking about running for local office and you are thinking about running for something like a school board, township board. A guy I talked to this week (it was Tuesday) was running for a township board here in Illinois. County boards.
We are talking about campaigns for an office where there’s a group of people running for the slate. Maybe it is vote for two out of three. Maybe there are individual districts. That’s different. You are not running a slate if you are running one on one against somebody else.
But if you are running a group of people and it is vote for three, vote for four, or vote for the top two, a slate might be a good way to go. There’s lots of strategy things that happen with a slate and make decisions to be a slate complicated.
If you are running as an independent and other people are running as slates, you might possibly be able to pick somebody off. But you also have weakness because the slate is going to pool their money and pool their resources.
The decision to be a part of a slate is a tough one. Let me start with what I think is the very most important thing about a slate or your thinking about running on a slate. That is who are you running with? Can you along with these people? Will they corporate if the group wants to do something?
There tends to be one that doesn’t want to do that or doesn’t want to be involved with this or doesn’t want to spend money or doesn’t like this message and kind of fights the whole team. It unfortunately hurts the slate.
And that is a problem. So you need to be very careful with who you are partnering with. I mean, this is a decision to make a joint business venture for a period of time. Now, you don’t have to run as a slate the next time out maybe. Maybe you will.
So take a look at that. On the other hand, as I said earlier, a slate gives you advantages because people are pooling their efforts. You don’t have time to knock the whole district yourself, but if you split it up and all of the members do a part and actually do it, then you’ve covered more ground.
Or you all put in a certain amount of money or pledge to raise a certain amount of money and you get your mailings out. I mean that is important. We’ll come back around to this strategy aspect.
But let’s talk about how you put together the slate in terms of the legal end. In most you go either to the county board of elections depending on where you are running or the state board of elections. And you just simply file as a campaign a campaign report as a slate.
Now something that came up this week with the guy who was talking to me about running on a slate was asking about a PAC. He said there was a PAC for this township and it was actually a GOP PAC. They wanted to have all the township board candidates run on a slate and the PAC was going to pay all the bills.
Now that is fine under Illinois PAC law. You have to check your PAC law in your state. And a PAC can pay for mailings and do things for a campaign and a candidate. That is completely legal as long as they are reporting. That is usually the requirement in most states. Some states might not even require reporting. It depends.
But check into that as I said. Get a hold of your local county board and find out if that is where you are covered or if you are covered under state law and the state board of elections. And most of these places have pretty good websites now. You can find all the information and forms there and figure it all out right there.
If you are worried about, you can get a hold of a local or state law attorney that handles politics. You need an attorney that understands political law because it is different and they are specialists.
I have some good podcasts on that. Back on Commonwealthy #6, Campaign Election Law Basics with Deanna Mool, is a great place to start. There’s lots of thoughts on beginning a campaign and how you put the paperwork together. So I’d go back to that one.
And then there is the one that we did with John Fogarty, Practical Election Law Insights for Candidates. And that is Commonwealthy #57. The one with John Fogarty is a little more advanced. It talks a little bit more about ballot integrity and things like that.
So start with the Deanna Mool one. And if you want to know more, then go on to John Fogarty. Both are great attorneys. Both are located here in Illinois. If your campaign is in another state, they are not who you want. You need to find somebody in your state.
And finding a campaign election law attorney is a matter of asking around. If your local attorney says, “I can do that,” well, do they know it? How long is it going to take them to dig things up? Find somebody who does it regularly.
But back to the idea of the PAC. It’s a good idea. A PAC can raise money. It can hang around for other election cycles when the slate changes. The PAC can raise money usually with slightly different laws than a candidate or a campaign, slightly different rules than a campaign.
It’s a possibility to check out a PAC. And a PAC has some sort of sustainability. It will be around longer hopefully. It can raise money for other elections and do other things with that entity versus only putting money towards that school board race.
Next time out, the PAC if you’ve still got it together and you want to raise some money can go raise some money for a state rep, county board, or whatever you might want to do. So there are some advantages to that structure. But you need to to think about that.
But back to this client. He wanted to know about running as a member of a slate and having the PAC do the fundraising controlling. And as I advised him, any money that you might raise would have to be a separate campaign committee or given to the PAC.
Do you want to raise some money and then turn it over to the PAC? Because then it is out of your control. It is whoever controls the PAC.
He wanted to raise some money for himself. He thought he could raise five to ten thousand dollars on his own. He didn’t think it would be too hard and I think he can after talking to him. He had the right attitude about fundraising.
And if he wanted to do that, then he could very simply put together his own campaign. Now there’s paperwork. The PAC would be doing the paperwork for you. In the case of a slate, you would want to find somebody to be the treasurer for the slate and to take care of putting together the paperwork and taking care of the filing.
The filings can be tedious, but if you are a small campaign that doesn’t happen often. Usually you have to file within a certain number of days within receiving X amount of dollars. Usually it is like two hundred and fifty dollars. And then you have to file. And then you have to file every time there is two hundred and fifty dollars more in new contributions.
And it is not a big deal. Perhaps you can find a treasurer or someone who you know or like that can handle that for you. So that’s a call you’ve got to make.
But in this guy’s case, I said, “Look. If you don’t mind raising some money, you can get some yard signs that just have your name on them. Get them out in your neighborhood. You can get yourself a palm card, a piece of literature, with a picture of you and just your name on it.”
The problem with the slate is usually it’s got to have some kind of a name with your slate, like Committee for Action or the Action Party. I remember my father-in-law was part of a slate. He ran for his village board. He was actually village board president at one time. They ran on the Action Party.
There’s actually a law in their town where they couldn’t run a political party in more than one election cycle. So one term they would be the Action Party and then the next term they would be the Act On Party. And then since Act On had been the last time, they could go back to Action.
But everybody in the town knew it was Act On or Action. They knew that that was a group and a party. That’s how they skirted the law. And that worked really well for them. Maybe that is something that will work for you.
So be aware if you raise that money for yourself that you can spend it on yourself. And you can brand some things for you and control some things for you. That might come in really handy because you want to make sure that you are going to get re-elected and elected.
I mean, if the slate is only doing so much and if you are into this thing and the slate is not getting enough money raise and they are not getting enough mailing out and things that you don’t like, you can act on your own besides the slate and have some flexibility there.
But I also think it is important to get your own name ID out and build your name for the future. You might be running for this local office this time out, but who knows what you want to run for next time. And if you start building your name ID, people will remember that. And next time out, you’ll be in better shape.
So a good question to ask yourself is do you think you can raise money and control your own fate. Do you want to raise money? And if you are too afraid to raise money, then get a hold of me and I can coach you through it and teach you (John@commonwealthy.com). At some point, you probably need to face that fear and grow.
That is something you need to ask yourself. Will I raise money? Do I want to do it? Can I do it? And if you can’t, then maybe the slate is your answer. Maybe you are all just going to put in five hundred dollars a piece or two hundred a dollars a piece and do a couple mailings as a group. And that will work. But don’t forget grassroots.
So back to how do you decide you are running for a slate? Well, I would have a definite heart to heart as a group and then meet with each member of the slate individually to really probe them before you commit.
What are they willing to raise? What are they willing to put in of their own money? What are they willing to spend? And what are they willing to do in terms of their own efforts and labor? What is the group going to do as a slate? What are they going to have?
Are they going to have literature that is mailed? Are they going to have a website? Are they going to have a fundraiser? Are they going to appear in debates or things like that if they happen in your local community? Who is going to be the spokesperson for the slate if someone asks a questions?
There’s lots of things to think about like that that need to be asked of the group in advance so the strategy is spelled out and perhaps typed up in a simple list of bullet points. Here’s what the campaign is going to do. And have everyone sign it. This way you know they’ve committed to it.
If they just say something verbally, “Oh, I don’t remember that” or “I didn’t hear that” or “I didn’t say that” or “I’m not committed to that” might come up. And it is nice to have it in writing so that you can say, “Well, you said this. This is disappointing.” And you are not going to stop them from pulling back or backing out. But it is disappointing when it happens.
And let’s go back to what kind of work will they do. As you know if you listen to this podcast regularly, I am about door knocking. It is about grassroots. It is about knocking on doors of voters in your districting and IDing them and putting it into a database.
If other members of your slate will not commit to that, you’ve got a problem. You need to have a database and they need to say they will go out. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment- a couple of hours a week, every other Saturday for a half a day, or something. Come up with a level of commitment and get everybody to commit to the same level or if there is going to be some kind of a compromise.
But get that in writing. Door knocking is huge. And break the district up. “Okay, Joe, you are doing this area, these ten blocks. John, you are doing these ten blocks. Little D, you are doing those. Judy, you are doing those.”
Figure it out in advance with commitments. And you’ve got to follow through. Make sure that you don’t have any weak links in your chain because you are only as strong as the weakest member of the slate.
Now judging character is difficult. If you don’t know people well, you need to ask around quietly so that you get an idea if you think you can trust the other members of your slate. And are you in harmony on some of the key issues?
Often there is a slate that is an incumbent slate and they want to add a new member or two. That might be you. You might be working or talking to some incumbent people on your local board and you then want to become part of that group and work with their slate.
Quite frankly, you being the newbie, they are going to have more power than you. You are going to have to kind of go along with them and hope that their coattails can drag you through the finish.
But again, perhaps you want to have your own campaign fun and do a little extra for yourself. And again, by the way, ask others in the slate if that is going to be okay. “I am going to be doing that as well. I just want to do more. You guys want to do this. You are committing to that. I don’t think you want to do a lot more. I want to do more.”
Bring that up right up front. That’s important. And as I am talking here, I am struck about how much of this is about psychology. Do you know yourself? Do you know what you really will do? Do you know the other members of the slate and possible team? What will they do?
Are some of them bringing some volunteers with them that would do this and that? That contribution is not to be ignored. Are they bringing a spouse who can make lots of phone calls or going to be the treasurer or handle something for the whole group? That’s huge.
Often that other person can do more for the group than the candidate can because the candidate is busy working full time and has lots of commitments. That’s also part of it. And you’ve got to weigh all of these things.
And then what is your temperament like? Can you work with others? Do you get angry easily if people are letting you down? Or can you be calm about it, business-like, gracious about it, talk things through with people, and let them know that you’d like to do what they committed to?
Or is this going to cause you a lot of stress and worry? If that is true, then you don’t want to be a part of a slate. You want to control your own slate. Run just as an individual.
And are there parties involved here. We didn’t even get into that. Is there Democrat, Republican, Green? Or as I talked about earlier, local parties as in the case of my father-in-law and the Action Party? And you can get along with people in the party? Is that going to work for you?
Are they somebody you know you can work with? Have you talked to them? Are they controlling? What do they offer? Do they offer much? If they don’t offer very much, it doesn’t really matter.
Again lots of things to talk about. So this stuff should be happening now or should have happened earlier in the year. You need to be doing a lot of talking and interviewing and weighing and decision-making.
Perhaps you are making a big list on pros on one side and cons on the other and see what is going to outweigh the other. And the truly look inside of yourself to see what you can accept.
Because anytime you run as a group or a party or as a slate, there’s going to be disappointments and there are going to be things that you don’t want to do or decisions that are made on your behalf that you don’t like.
And you want to speak up and you want to tell people what you think and try to get your point across. But there are times for compromise and times it is not going to happen. And I’ve seen that just about every campaign that happens. So be ready for that. Be ready for that.
I am not trying to discourage you. In fact what I want to do is encourage you. A slate is a good way to get elected and do a little less because as a team, others are pitching in and helping to carry you. And that’s important.
It is hard work to get yourself elected in a district no matter what size it is. But with the team and teamwork of a slate, it is really going to help. And then when you win and you have more visibility, it will help to recruit people easier. It will help to find people, money, donors, and all of that. So a slate is a good way to help yourself early on.
And now we come to my favorite part of a slate. And that is the strategy. Let’s talk more about the strategy because this is fun and it is tricky. It requires having a feel for the other people that are running in the field out there. What is it like? Who do you think is going to be running against you?
Often it might be smart to file your slate a little later to see who else has filed. Don’t be the first one to file. Although the first one to file is top of the ballot and that is better for positioning because people tend to vote sometimes for the first people in the line because they don’t know anybody and they just pick some off. So you need to think about that, too. All of this goes into the strategy of the slate.
But here is what you need to think about. Say you are running for a county board that doesn’t have a district or township board that doesn’t have districts. And there are five open seats. So the top five vote getters are going to get seated.
You need to find five people to be on your slate so that all five can be voted for by people that are supporting you and your slate. And you have to emphasize that people need to vote for you and the other members of your slate.
What if you can’t find the five? Say you have recruited three or four and you are one short. I have seen this happen a lot. It is hard to get five people to be in harmony and want to run. And there are maybe two or three on the other side.
Often there are slates of three and four and another one of three or four or five. And then a couple of independents, a couple of people that are running as individuals. I keep saying they are independents, but they are not independents; they are running as individuals.
How do you deal with that? It is important to think about this and it is important to try to fill your slate. And it is important to get the message across when you are putting out your slate that people need to vote for all of the members of the slate. I already said that, but I will say it again.
The problem is you’ll have an individual who will be a better vote getter than anybody on your slate. And then it will drive the members of your slate down. So the fourth or fifth one let’s say doesn’t have enough votes and is not in the top four or whatever that you needed. And they drop off.
So it is a real problem. I have run slates. It’s interesting. People tend to split up their vote on the slate even though you are trying to promote the concept of voting for the entire slate.
I have elected people on a village board. I remember one woman was number one vote getter. And there was four other members of the slate. And then they came all in fifth, sixth, and seventh and didn’t make it which was weird.
It was like she got votes and other people on her slate didn’t, but another slate got some of the votes. And then there was an independent that jumped in there. That was like my real first time messing around with slates.
We didn’t win the village board president. That was the goal. The slate was sort of secondary. So it was messy though. Messy. And that was the first time I ever did a slate.
And I’ve gotten better at it because I emphasize you’ve got to kind of support the whole slate. You’ve got to promote more.
Now let’s talk about the one woman who got the most votes and the village board president. Both of them were very well known in their community. Both of them went out and knocked doors. We are back to door knocking.
Other members of the slate were slackers. They didn’t knock as many doors. People didn’t know who they were. It just didn’t happen for them. People voted for people that they knew.
And it was a small town. This was a town of a thousand registered voters. So you could go around and meet everyone yourself. And those that did got voted. And those that didn’t and relied on the slate didn’t make it. So that is troubling. It is a real problem.
And then if it is just something like choose two, you are almost back to if it is you and another person you’ve both got to work really hard. It is like running one on one except maybe there are five or six other people running for the choose two.
That is difficult in that you’ve just got to out work the hardest other worker. We are back to door knocking. The more doors you door, the more people you meet, the most information you get on them and back into your database and follow it up with thank you notes and some mailing.
But you don’t have to mail a lot if you do your door knocking and meet people one on one. They’ll remember you. But then a follow up just before election run to remind them to go vote is important. Get Out the Vote is still always present.
You’ll win if you do the most meeting of people and door knocking. So think about that situation. You’ve got to outwork others. That’s probably tougher than two slates running against each other. If both slates work hard, it has a lot to do with the issues. If one slate is a little bit lazier and doesn’t do as much, the slate that worked harder will prevail.
If it is more individuals, the individuals that work harder will prevail. So bottom line in an election is do your work- getting out and meeting people and raising some money and getting your message out.
And when I saw meet people, I mean organized. Knocking on the doors. It is not going to the rallies. It is not random shots here and there. I mean it is good to work the local high school football game or something. But it isn’t giving you voter ID on who is voting for you.
You are better off knocking doors, going door to door, talking to people at their front door, and getting down in your information if they are voting for you or not. It is nice to know what issues they are worried about.
Everyone’s got their issue on a different level of government. Find out what that is and then you can send something out about that issue if you want to try to reinforce the vote or sway the vote if you think they hadn’t made up their mind.
If they are voting against you, you can forget about them. And if they are voting for you, you know that you’ve got get into a good Get Out the Vote program.
Of course there’s lots of Commonwealthy podcasts about Get Out the Vote. So go back to Commonwealthy #42, Get Out the Vote for a Political Campaign, and come to understand how you do Get Out the Vote and how it works. The same principles work here. You’ve got to get out the vote for your people- for your slate- or for you.
So I touched on it a few minutes ago. Part of the strategy is you’ve got to know what is happening with the other candidates and you have to know what is happening with the issues. Is there one big divisive issue that is happening?
Is one slate running against another slate and each one is on either side of this issue? If that is true, then that’s the issue that’s got to be talked about. You need go around door to door and identify people on that issue. If there isn’t an issue and it is more about personality, then it is totally about how many people you knock their doors and talk to.
The big issue can be approached from different angles. Is everybody on your slate in harmony on the approach? And you probably will be. But the entire slate can go down if the issue is not doing well and fails.
Something out to do watch out for in the partners on your slate: is somebody negative all the time, kind of an angry looking person? Because voters don’t like that. I mean there are some that do, but the majority of people want somebody that is positive.
So is your slate going to present positive reasons why people should vote for you on this issue, not negative reasons. It can’t look too dark. I am thinking about school board in particular.
It is hard to work against more money for schools. However seniors don’t like it. Big property tax payers don’t like it. You can work them. But are there enough of them? But if they are asking for too much more money for school, that definitely could be worked easily.
You just want to stay positive. “I want money in the schools. I want more to get directly to the kids in the classroom.” That kind of a thing. “But I just think this is an overreach of how much we need” or “I think this is coming at a really bad in our community and we can get by for a little while and see what we can do to improve things without a tax increase.”
Pick a positive one. Not “They want to raise our taxes and we are going to stop them.” It doesn’t sell. Usually not enough people in that mood. But if you say it nicely with a positive spin, you can get both sides of it.
So we need think about research. What do you know? You need to actually start going on and knocking on doors before you run and talk to people. Get an idea what people are thinking. Or is there a local coffeehouse where people out and they are talking about these kind of things?
This is important because you need to know what is going on and how to approach it. Slates can be very exciting and they are very fun. It is good to have some team effort. It is good to have support and other people working with you.
It can get very lonely being an individual candidate, especially for a small race and you can’t attract many volunteers. But at least in a slate maybe you come together every Saturday morning or one night a week and you make some phone calls together.
You spend an hour talking about what you are going to do. But don’t bog down talking to each other too much. Remember you’ve got to go talk to the voters.
So a slate is a good strategy. I started off talking about a PAC versus a slate versus running as an individual. Each one of those is viable. Think about it. Kick it around. Talk with other people. See what you can come up with.
Perhaps you are an individual who wants to be an organizer. You know, I know people out there (Tina, my dear friend on this podcast, is one of them) who have often recruited people for a slate, but weren’t part of a slate.
So think about that thought. Do you just want to be an organizer and put together a slate that supports a particular issue and get that together for your next race? You might be thinking about that for two years from now or whenever your next local election is coming. You might not have enough time to be ready for this spring.
So start planning now. Start thinking about it. And go for it! It isn’t going to happen unless you do it. Still the very best way to change the world is win elections. And if you can put together winning teams and winning slates, you are on your way to at least changing something in your community and making it happen.
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