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Campaigns Don’t Shut Down When the Election Is Over

It takes time to unwind a multimillion-dollar operation

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s campaign team is still working to make sure his vendors are paid and his staff lands on their feet. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s campaign team is still working to make sure his vendors are paid and his staff lands on their feet. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Campaigning for most offices ended three weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean the campaigns themselves folded on Nov. 6.

Closing up shop takes time.

Just ask Justin Barasky, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign manager, who found himself in the office every day last week leading up to Thanksgiving. Brown has publicly admitted to mulling a presidential bid, but there’s been plenty to keep the Democrat’s Senate campaign staff busy this month.

“You still have to shut down what was essentially a multimillion-dollar corporation,” Barasky said.

That process often begins with the money.

“The cash flow obligations for a campaign don’t stop at midnight on Election Day,” said Ryan Reynolds, campaign manager for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who lost his challenge to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III. Reynolds is spending much of his time this month making sure all the campaign’s vendors have been paid.

Staff must turn in receipts so the campaign can reimburse them. How long payroll continues varies from campaign to campaign, depending on the money left in the bank, what the candidate wants and whether they won or lost. 

Brown is paying the staff for both his Senate campaign and the coordinated campaign through the end of the year. Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who lost his bid for a second term in Indiana, is paying his staff through November. 

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For the most part, the practicalities of shutting down a campaign don’t differ much depending on whether you won or lost. Rental offices still need to be closed, signs taken down and equipment turned in.

“You structure all your leases to end pretty quickly after the end of campaign — win or lose,” Reynolds said. 

Donnelly’s campaign organized a materials drop-off day, where staffers from around Indiana returned printers, tablets and computers that had been used across 25 offices. The pile of gadgetry was overwhelming, campaign manager Peter Hanscom said. But it’ll live another day. Because Donnelly’s team financed its coordinated campaign through the state party, much of that technology will be available for candidates in Indiana to use in 2019 and beyond.

One big difference losing makes, though? The mood when you’re doing all that tidying up, Hanscom said.

Donnelly’s headquarter had a floor-to-ceiling wall of campaign signs. “It was a pretty humiliating experience to tear that thing down,” Hanscom said. He’d read about Hillary Clinton’s staffers dismantling a similar wall in their Brooklyn headquarters after the 2016 presidential election, and thought, “This is what this feels like.”

While most campaigns are still shoveling out money — to vendors and staffers — losing campaigns cannot accept new money without filing for another federal office with the Federal Election Commission. A winning campaign, by contrast, can keep some fundraising apparatus in place, even if the next election is six years away. (Winning campaigns also have to file new statements of organization with the FEC since the new cycle begins after Election Day.)

In the days immediately after Nov. 6, Brown’s campaign sent a steady stream of fundraising emails. Most targeted the Florida Senate race, with contributions on ActBlue automatically set to be split between Brown and Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. On Cyber Monday, the campaign offered 26 percent off “Team Sherrod Swag.”

Personnel touches

Besides making sure the bills are paid, managers for both winning and losing campaigns are spending most of their time organizing the campaign’s records and making sure staffers land on their feet.

Reynolds is archiving email and voter lists — basically anything the campaign has generated that has value. What becomes of that information depends on what Morrisey wants to do in the future. 

Barasky is conducting exit interviews with staffers to find out more about their experiences on the team and to help them figure out what they want to do next. Staff will also complete exit memos, which are a good resource for the next campaign. Barasky said he read the 2012 memos when he came onboard as manager for 2018.

Hanscom, too, said he’s spending most of his time meeting one-on-one with staffers, helping them tweak résumés and connecting them with people who can help them get new jobs.

For many staffers, the temporary nature of campaign work has always been part of the deal.

“Joe already had a full-time staff, so folks didn’t join the campaign with a promise they’d have a job afterward,” Hanscom said. “We all knew what we were getting ourselves into.”

Some campaigns have already turned off their emails, with staffers now using their personal accounts, while others keep their emails live through the end of the year. Many create group email lists to help everyone keep in touch after their campaign emails shut down.

On the other side of Thanksgiving, campaigns still have a few more loose ends to tie up. But no one sounds too sad about it. 

“It’s a good way to see people for a few more days,” Barasky said.

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