Budgeting for a municipal campaign can be one of the most challenging aspects of running for local office; but, it is also one of the most critically important elements in achieving electoral success.
Given the enormous task of raising your profile without the help of a party brand, and against the tide of general public apathy; it takes considerable resources in both time and funds to reach voters.
Time is always limited, but, in the case of municipal campaigning, so are the funds – by law. All municipalities across the country limit the amount a candidate can spend on a race. While this is aimed at keeping the playing field level; without the ability to spend the money required to raise their profile, many newcomers face an even greater challenge in trying to mount the campaigns required to defeat incumbents.
In Ontario, for example, the campaign limit is a set base – depending on whether you are running for council member ($5,000), or Head of Council ($7,500). In addition, the number of electors as given by Elections Ontario within each respective race is multiplied by $0.85 and then added to the set base. For Head of Council (e.g Mayor), then, the total amount is $7,500 plus $0.85 per elector. For a regular council seat, the amount is $5,000 plus $0.85 per elector.
The chart below lays out rough spending limits based typically sized Large, Mid-Size and Small Town races. Spending limits for Large City Mayoral races, which we didn’t include in this chart, generally run over $100,000 at a minimum; while some mega-city races will spend over a million. From the chart, you can see that Mayoral Campaigns typically run from $25,000 to $85,000; while councillor races are generally from as low as $6,000 to $48,000.
Of course, these funds need to be raised by you – and your ability to do so should be a major consideration in deciding to run. You may ask yourself – do I need to spend the limit to win? If you are challenging an incumbent then the answer, more often than not, is yes. There may be unique cases where someone spent considerably less than the limit and overturned an incumbent, but it is very rare.
So, if you plan to win, expect to spend the limit, and as a result, plan how to raise those funds. As you begin to build your campaign plan, the included rough estimates can serve you well in understanding the scope and scale of the race you will run.