What Does a Campaign Manager Make?
This blog comes up a lot on google searches by people wanting to know how much a campaign manager makes. I don’t have any definitive answers, but clearly it would be helpful for me to take a stab at this.
As with any salary question, there are a lot of variables that hinge on such issues as the size of the campaign (how much money is the candidate raising) and the experience of the individual campaign manager.
The salary history of a campaign operative is also not a steady upward climb on the x/y axis (money/years of experience). It is the sort of up and down life that drives stability loving parents, spouses and boy/girlfriends absolutely crazy. I was once in a relationship where I had the awkward duty to explain why I was moving across the country for a ten percent pay cut (the short answer was for a more prestigious but less well paying job – we often face variations of the question that John Milton posed in Paradise Lost, would you prefer to serve in heaven or rule in hell? – the answer isn’t always clear cut).
For smaller races, ranging from low dollar races for the state legislature to city and county races the numbers tend to run from $0 (volunteer campaign staff) to about $2500 or even $3000 a month, with perhaps $1500 being the average if there is any pay at all. The higher numbers usually mean that the state party has come in and is taking responsibility for the salaries of campaign staff (which is frequent here in Florida). We have seen a lot of expensive legislative races here, but in other parts of the state or in states like Kansas or Iowa, $25,000-$50,000 per candidate is a strong showing in competitive legislative race – hardly enough to hire Paul Begala to come take over.
Congressional races and big state senate races, where the money gets into the high six figures and low seven figures, are a big bump up. A million dollar race is easily worth $5000 a month. Sometimes a negotiation is made to have differing scales in the primary and general elections – with the manager and staff receiving $1000-$2000 more per month in the general election. This level (and it can also include large county and municipal races) is also when you start seeing win bonuses included.
Win bonuses are a tricky issue. They can range from the equivalent to two weeks to two months salary. Sometimes campaigns use them as a way to backload the salary structure – paying below market rates in return for a monumental win bonus. I met with a consultant who wanted to hire me for a race that would effectively end after the primary (it was a safe Democratic seat), but who didn’t believe in win bonuses. My argument was that a win bonus was not so much an incentive to try harder, but a basic tool to help me pay my bills following the primary (there would be other jobs for the general, but most of the better paying, prestigious ones would already be gone).
At the upper levels (well above my pay grade, I confess), managers can make $10000 or more a month
One other strategy used by managers is to manage multiple races (this applies only to smaller legislative and local races – and a better title might be “lead consultant” than campaign manager). Others will take their manager salary on the backend – essentially taking most of their salary as a win bonus, but make their money by also being media consultants – they might only get $1000 a month during the election for their management services, but they are also recipient of the money spent on direct mail and other media services, which is paid upfront. If they win, they get more. If not, they aren’t driven back into their parents’ garage because of their work as a vendor.
We aren’t exclusively driven by money. For example, it is far easier to hire me a smaller, less well-paid race in Tampa Bay than elsewhere. A targeted race that the folks at the DCCC are paying close attention could be worth more to one’s career in the long run than a better paying race that receives less national attention. And never forget that a good candidate, someone you believe in, who is a hard worker and a smart campaigner is worth his or her weight in gold.
If the money seems high, keep in mind that there is an element of structural unemployment in the profession – when the election ends, so does your paycheck. We are all always preparing for December and January, when the bills still come but the money isn’t always.
If there are any questions, gripes or polemics disguised as questions (“How does someone like yourself, who is clearly lacking talent and possibly mentally retarded, find work?”), please put them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them there.