Home>Highlight>The O’Toole Chronicles: Always know your election fund balance

Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Always know your election fund balance

By Kevin O'Toole, February 23 2021 12:01 am

“How much money do I have in the bank?”

“Depends. How much did you spend between when we spoke last night and this morning?”

“That’s not what I asked. How much money do I have?”

Pause

“Either you’re lying to me or you’re incompetent. Call me when you figure out what you are and what my balance is!”

Click.

I have had the joy of raising millions of dollars for campaigns over the years either as a candidate, campaign manager, or donor. Anyone who has been involved in a campaign in any capacity knows that without the money, there’s little chance you’re getting your message out there – no matter how many times you post a video on Facebook. Many first-time candidates are utterly clueless when it comes to HOW hard it is to raise money. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from these wide-eyed optimists that they can raise $250k or they’ve got 5 supporters who have “pledged” to raise $50k each.

Fast forward, those 5 supporters raise about $5k (combined) and then breathlessly say it’s hard to raise money. Thanks, Captain Obvious. Welcome to the real world. Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a candidate who is running for senate. They told me they can get to $500k (with their running mates) by April 1. At that moment, they had less than $60K on hand. I told them that they were a long way away from that goal, and based on cash on hand, saying they can raise $500k made them sound ridiculous. However, if they can push their “pledges” to deliver, and are willing to put some of their own money in, and can get to $250k, they will be viewed as a serious contender and more importantly – the front runner.

In this business money talks and everything else loses.

While we can spend time talking about raising money, the point of this column is knowing how much you have. Every voter contact counts. Every mailer. Every paid digital ad. Every tv commercial. They all count, and most importantly they all cost money. We all make budgets early on in the campaign cycle – which prior to excel spreadsheets should have been made in pencil because of the number of times they change.

You end up adjusting your GOTV plan, expand a mail universe, boost a few more posts, place a last-minute banner on the local TapInto website. You even end up taking out an ad in a local weekly because the municipal chair says without it you can’t win and it’s easier to spend that $1,500 than fight about it.

For those on the campaign operations end, you worry do we have enough to pay for this latest “great idea.” For the candidates, I say you should always know how much money you have so when you come up with this “great idea” you’re not shocked to learn you can’t pay for it – because YOU didn’t raise enough money.

At the beginning of this column, I quoted an actual conversation that took place in 2007.

I remember during the last 10 days of that campaign I was furiously spending money like I was auditioning for Brewster’s Millions. I called my then-campaign manager, Dominick, wanting to know how much money we had. He paused and the above conversation ensued.

Dominick was doing his job and trying to control an overzealous candidate while making sure there was enough money left in the budget for what he felt were “legitimate” campaign expenditures. I, on the other hand, was drawing up copy for my last TV ad. I knew it was a complete waste of time (money) but I didn’t care. Our campaign was already raining down mailers/door hangers/tv commercials at a furious clip. However, I wanted to demoralize my opponent and his last three supporters. I had come to learn that they all worked out at a gym in the morning with ESPN on in the background, and I wanted to have a commercial airing on ESPN from 6-9am for them to watch as they worked out – naturally! I know it sounds stupid now, but back then this had to happen.

My point of all this is, whether you’re the candidate or the manager, you need to know how much you have left at all times. Ideas come up. Strategy shifts. Opportunities arise. You don’t want to be on the losing end of an election because you didn’t have enough money to spend on everything, and worse yet, you don’t want to end your campaign with no money in the bank and a stack of invoices left to be paid – especially if you lost.

PS: In case you’re wondering, I did apologize to Dominick for that outburst. We all had dinner the other night, this story came up and we all laugh about it now – well, at least I do.

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