Wednesday, July 30, 2008

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.


At 8/01/2008 03:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Campaign Managers don't make nearly enough for all they do and put up with

At 8/01/2008 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Campaign Manager said...

Amen, brother (or sister)!

At 9/07/2008 06:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am contemplating running for state representative in 2010, so I appreciate this post. I am in Orlando area (in case you have ever thought about working out of the Tampa area). I think campaign managers should make way more then you mentioned in these small campaigns, do you try to get a position with the candidates after election to supplement job loss in January?

At 9/08/2008 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Campaign Manager said...

Sometimes there just isn't a job waiting afterwards - such as on a city council race in a small to mid-sized city or a legislative race where the electeds don't have much in the way of staff.

Feel free to contact me at if you have any specific questions about your campaign.

At 11/04/2008 08:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic column!! You really filled in all the small details and large concepts of this position. My question, how do you first find out about open jobs?

At 11/06/2008 04:00:00 PM, Blogger Campaign Manager said...

If you are a Democrat, one of the major sites is

My understanding is that, if you're a Republica, fulfills a similar function.

The simple way, of course, is just to directly contact candidates and campigns in your area. I have, on a number of occasions, just called up a campaign and said I'd like to join up.

At 9/17/2010 11:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you specialize in Democrat or Republican? Or is it more an issue thing? I'm just wondering, because in Louisiana there is a lot of cross party voting.

At 9/20/2010 08:22:00 AM, Anonymous Campaign Manager said...

Like most political consultants, I have picked a side - and I am a Democrat.

There are some folks who consistently work for both sides, but that is not common.

When it comes to issue work, things get a little fuzzier.

At 5/28/2011 11:20:00 PM, Anonymous graham lascsak said...

I am being led to run for president of the USA. Currently am studying the availible managers. You spoke of a candidate you believe in being worth his wieght in gold...lets see if I am one in whom you can believe.

I am Graham

At 7/27/2011 08:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an elected official of a small town and didn't use a campaign manager in any of my races. I am now running for a state office and am in the process of interviewing three campaign managers. Your column has given me the information I need to negotiate their compensation. I would consider hiring you, unfortunately you're in Tampa and you're a Democrat.

At 9/06/2011 10:20:00 PM, Blogger Morgan Beam said...

Great post. If any of you are interested in working in NC in the upcoming 2011 elections send me an email at

At 8/09/2012 11:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be very careful who you pick as your campaign manager. The manager is the face of your campaign. DO NOT choose someone with no experience. There are too many complex issues that must be done to be successful. A good campaign is person who is a good delegator. Who heads up your volunteers, does your financial accounting, deals with press, etc...all in my opinion shouldnt be the campaign manager? A manager is too busy keeping all the pieces together to be able to handle all the other issues involved in a campaign...and please dont choose anyone who believes they can make statements or print information without YOUR approval. Campaign managers do not accompany the candidate at all events, they should be in the background and working for the campaign. Often managers have made enemies, (especially is they worked other campaigns that were not successful).

At 5/13/2014 12:38:00 PM, Blogger mary leitner said...

I have been offered a position as an assistant regional coordinator, what should my salary requirements be?

At 5/30/2014 03:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings, I'm trying to find a contract for a campaign manager which includes a graduated pay scale based on monies raised. Is that customary or even heard of?

At 6/26/2014 05:10:00 PM, Blogger codi stieles said...

Hi, thank you for the info. This is probably a silly question but I;m very new to the campaign management world. I was wondering if there is a law on whether or not taxes should be taken out of my check or if I can work as an Independent Contractor?
Thank you

At 3/01/2016 02:54:00 AM, Blogger David King said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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