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What does it take to get elected in Rocklin?

$20,000 and a lot of dedication, former council candidates say
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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With the Nov. 6 election just around the corner, the eight candidates for Rocklin City Council are in their last efforts to be elected to one of three open seats. How much does it cost? Some current and former City Council candidates have all reported today’s elections take more than $20,000 to be successful.
 
Council member Peter Hill has served on the council for three decades, through nine election cycles, losing one of them.
“The money is important, but it is only important if you know how to use it effectively,” Hill said.
 
Council member Scott Yuill, a 2010 re-election winner, said the thousands of dollars may seem like a lot until you look at what candidates spend it on.
 
“The cost is purely a function of the number of voters and what means one chooses to contact them, e.g. mail, mass media, signs, phone calls or door-to-door visits,” he said. “Each method has a price, and it’s impossible to convey one’s position and message without some or all forms.”
 
The first $400 is for a short candidate statement printed on all the ballots that give voters a chance to hear what candidates are all about.
 
“You can’t expect to win an election on your ballot statement alone – 250 words isn’t enough to tell people about what you stand for and your intentions for the city,” said Rocklin resident Aman Singh who ran unsuccessfully in 2010. The cost is what the city pays the county to print all those materials.
 
Next are the printed fliers, or walking pieces, candidates hand out to voters.
 
“If you decide you want to walk and knock on doors, then you need to have something to hand people,” Hill said. “So that’s going to cost $500-$800 for 10,000 (fliers).”
 
Hill said forget about about mass emails or phone calls – it is more important to be face to face.
 
“Walking is the most effective. That’s when you take the walking piece and knock on the door and say, ‘Hello, I’m running for council,’” Hill said. “I think they appreciate somebody saying, in effect, I am going to come to you and introduce myself and I’m going to make an effort to say hello.”
 
Rocklin’s population is 58,295, but not all residents vote and it is physically impossible to reach everyone, so the Placer County Elections Office offers voter information to candidates, called the voter file, to use in the election. For Rocklin, it costs about $50.
 
“It has the name, address, the registration, age, the phone number and even email if they gave it,” Hill explained. “It also has all the elections they voted in.”
 
It’s information not offered to the general public. Candidates use it under threat of penalty.
 
“A large part of my plan was also to walk every precinct,” said council member Diana Ruslin, who ran in 2010. “I personally knocked on about 10,000 doors. I believe that made the difference.”
 
Hill served as Ruslin's campaign treasurer, and both are helping 2012 candidate Ken Broadway’s campaign.
 
Mass mailers to all residents are also a big expense that can cost as much as $6,000 an occurrence. The idea is to get a candidate’s name and picture seen by voters at strategic times, like when mail-in ballots are sent out. There are also slate mailers, prepared by up to 30 area groups, showing endorsements or other messages. Candidates expect to spend more than $300 on each one.
 
“So you buy your way onto those,” Hill said. “Those are money-making operations. They’re a business and most have no connection with anybody.”
 
Lawn signs cost between $3 to $5 each, bought in bulk.
 
The biggest barrier may be the need for fundraising. However, there are donors out there. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Rocklin residents contributed $177,306 to political campaigns this year so far, which is slightly up from the 2010 election year’s $156,578.
 
All campaign funds and in-kind donations have to be reported and accounted for under threat of audit and potential penalties. Candidates are also required to divulge their financial dealings and personal income.
 
First-time council member Ruslin said her 2010 campaign was not easy.
 
“Candidates must realize from day one of their campaign that running for office is one of the most difficult and time-consuming endeavors they will ever undertake in their life,” she said. “It is crucial to have a thought-out campaign strategy and a genuine, heartfelt desire to make your community a better place to live. From the moment you decide to run for office, you are already running out of time.”
 
Placer County s Assistant Registrar of Voters Ryan Ronco said anyone interested in running for office can get help from the county elections office.
 
“We conduct several one-day (free) workshops to reach out to people who have never run for office before to demystify the process,” he said.
 
Attendees get forms explained by staff and advice from former candidates, a campaign consultant and a member of the media to explain press releases.
 
To learn more, visit www.placerelections.com.
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Estimated Council campaign costs
Needed: $20,000+
Ballot statement: $400
Fliers: $800
Mass mailer: $6,000
Slate mailer: $300-$1,800
Yard signs $5 each
 
Source: Current/former Rocklin candidates