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The Political Volunteer Hustle

I have worked on multiple political campaigns in Chicago this year. One experience that stands out most is how volunteers, field organizers, and campaign managers are selected for political campaigns. The phrase "It's hard to find good help" has never rung truer than in Chicago politics. When candidates go public with their political aspirations, they are overrun by social climbers, clout chasers, and con artists. Most potential volunteers and workers believe unlimited money flows through political campaigns, and everyone wants a piece of the pie. In reality, most of these campaigns have limited funds and rely on competent volunteers to get them over the finish line. The keyword here is competent. Everyone who has a photo or has worked with an elected official in any capacity, no matter how small: will declare that they alone can garner endorsements, fundraise, build websites, design graphics, host events, manage voter contact, direct mail, etc. As the campaign moves forward, you quickly discover who is honest or fake.


First-time candidates often fall for the ego-stroking a con artist provides to an inexperienced candidate. However, if a volunteer offers you an unbelievable service free of charge, beware. Candidates are so desperate and ultimately dependent on free help they often fall for the con. For example, two union workers approach a candidate touting their vast experience and ability to pull in other unions for endorsements, free union labor, and fundraising. It sounds too good to be true because it is. When two politically adjacent blue-collar workers promise a candidate that they can raise 5k from 20 unions before the end of the primary and fail to do so, leaving the candidate in the red, this is the ultimate hustle. If the candidate has name recognition, the dynamic duo can ride that wave to finesse the next unexpecting candidate having walked away with some legitimacy at the candidate's expense.


Another candidate is propositioned by someone who claims to have managed multiple successful campaigns with elected officials. Yet, they are willing to take a menial position with a first-time candidate free of charge is a red flag. A little asking around goes a long way. Chances are if what they say is authentic, you will find someone who can vouch for that person's work. You may even find a news article explaining why this campaign worker is now unemployed.


What can an aspiring public servant do to prevent these unnecessary pitfalls on the campaign trail? First, utilize people you know and trust before you pull in outside help. Family and friends don't generally want a piece of the action; they want to support you in your endeavors. Second, strategize with people that aren't looking for personal gain and genuinely want to see you win. These are the people you can trust. Chances are you have highly competent, educated individuals you can rely on to help you figure out what you need in a volunteer. If a potential campaign worker presents themselves as having paid campaign experience, take the time to look up the financial disclosures of the candidate they claimed to have worked for to see if they were paid through the campaign. This information is public; utilize it. Even if a campaign has limited funds, a background check is an inexpensive option in determining who is legitimate and who is not. Finally, avoid making choices based on desperation. A campaign devoid of competent help is destined for public humiliation that may fall on the unsuspecting candidate.


A candidate that holds on to incompetent staff becomes equally inept in the eyes of voters. Moreover, it appears they are not suited to lead if they cannot effectively lead their own campaign. If a candidate makes headlines for a mistake by a trusted staff member, release the responsible party of all campaign responsibility. A worker whose ignorance causes you legal fees must be terminated expeditiously. It is the candidate's responsibility to weed out problematic workers. Removing bad apples shows you are focused and responsible.

Successful candidates should provide exceptional volunteers with a certified recommendation letter for their next campaign. This letter should contain a list of tasks performed and a contact for verbal reference and verification. This process will take some guesswork out of the recruiting process for future candidates seeking competent help and ultimately lead to a paid position for volunteers looking to build a political career.


In conclusion, anyone bragging about climbing mount Everest in great detail with no proof has never even climbed a flight of stairs. A candidate with a colossal ego needs someone around to hold them accountable for a poor decision that can potentially come back to bite them. An unchecked ego will hold on to poor choices even when faced with the reality that they have been played.

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