For most IAFF members, being involved in politics was not the job you signed up for. However, we all quickly learned that every decision made about our work lives – our safety on the job, our pay and benefits, our union rights, our retirement security – is made by someone who was elected to office or appointed by someone elected. What that means for us is that politics is a tool that we can and must use to improve the lives of our members.

We build power in local politics not because we’re interested in the trappings of it, but because the stronger we are as a union, the better outcomes we can get for our members. Building political power takes work, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But, in the long run, it pays real dividends for your local.

There are many ways your local can engage in politics and campaigns to shift from a side-player to a respected local political leader. Having political knowledge and skills will make your support a must-have for local elected officials and give you more access to those decision-makers.

You can find a full list of simple steps to work in that direction here.

We recommend using the legislative process first when it comes to a specific issue or opportunity for your members. Talk to your elected officials about the issues and determine where they stand; then identify those that are open to persuasion and find ways to make your issues relatable to them.

Use grassroots and community validators to back you up. With the right pressure applied to the right leaders, the solution to your issue can sometimes be found without going the electoral route, which involves much more time, effort and money.

However, if the legislative route fails, you can use the electoral side of politics to change who makes the decisions.

Introduction to Electoral Campaigns

You should care about electoral campaigns because everyone who makes decisions about our profession is an elected official or answers to one. Electoral campaigns are your toolkit for getting things done within your local government.

Campaigns are different from politics or lobbying. Campaigns allow you to spend time communicating with voters to inform them of your issue and why they should care. There are a variety of ways to engage with voters, e.g., in person, digitally through social media and ads, mailers, TV, radio, text, phone, op-eds.

It’s important to remember not everyone votes. It’s also important to know that everyone may not care about your issue or candidate or think it is the most important. If you do not actively engage with registered voters, many may not vote for you or vote against you without knowing why. Campaigns are focused on changing how those people vote in elections.

It is your job to inform the voter of how the issue and/or candidate being elected affects them. The underlying principle is simple: you must sway more voters to your side than your opponent does. And once you’ve persuaded them, you must plan a path to ensure the voter goes out for you or your issue.


Campaign Resources

Communicating about your issue or candidate, persuading voters and creating plans of action all require a lot of time, money and worker time. Working on campaigns is a practice in resource management. Building a campaign is an exercise of managing three resources. You always have to prioritize and balance the following:

  • Time: There is only so much time you have until election day. Make sure you make the most of it and use a calendar to track all events, finance report deadlines, etc.
  • People: People are a great resource if they are properly trained and organized. Your volunteers will be the ones speaking with voters and carrying your message.
  • Money: Money is vital. Having a good budget and sticking to it is of utmost importance. Make sure whatever money you spend is directly going towards communicating and encouraging voters to go out for you.

You may not have an abundance of all three resources. For example, you might have plenty of local members willing to volunteer and sufficient funds to run the campaign. However, you still need to be strategic about where and how you spend time in order to make sure you are using the available people and money to the best of your campaign’s ability.


Best Practices

There are four main steps in an electoral campaign:

  1. Research: This may include candidate/issue research, election rules, past election results, past election costs, etc. You’ll use your research to formulate messaging about your campaign and to write your plan.
  2. Plan: You and your team should be organized and have a written campaign plan. The written campaign plan should include a campaign calendar; a fundraising plan, a budget, a communication plan to include earned, social and digital media; and a field and canvassing plan.
  3. Gather Resources: Your resources are time, people and money. You only have so many days until your election (time), but you can inspire more people and fundraise more money to increase your campaign’s impact.
  4. Deploy Resources: This is where you start putting your campaign plan into action to influence voters.

Once you have your team and plan in place, make sure to stay consistent yet flexible. Goals or metrics may change but your written campaign plan will guide you through the campaign.

The IAFF Political Department has sample campaign documents and guides to help you get started. 

For assistance with campaigns, filling out the campaign documents or for more information on the selection of IAFF trainings available – request assistance from the IAFF Political Department.

What Is a Ballot Measure?

A ballot measure is a law, question or issue to be approved or rejected by voters. Ballot measures can also be referred to as propositions, questions, referendums, amendments and initiatives. 

  • Proposition: A ballot proposition is a new piece of proposed legislation to be approved or rejected by voters. It is sometimes referred to as a ballot measure or question.
  • Amendment: A proposal to repeal or change existing laws or constitutional amendments to be approved or rejected by voters.
  • Referendum: Voters decide whether to approve or disapprove a law passed by the local legislative body (city council, commissioners, etc.). If disapproved, the law does not go into effect.
  • Initiative: Citizens propose a new law, which becomes effective if voters approve. That new law could be an amendment to the charter or a new city ordinance.


Best Practices

Before you start the ballot measure process, make sure to check if this kind of measure has been brought to the ballot previously. Check not only your local jurisdiction but also statewide. You will want to find out if the measure or a similar measure has been brought to the voters before to lower your chances of facing a legal challenge. Challenges can be brought from entities around the state and can be based on similar measures. While searching for similar ballot measures across the state, look for language from previous ballot measures to use on your measure that have proven successful and withstood legal challenge.

The best way to make sure you are successful and meet all requirements is to consult with a lawyer who specializes in ballot measures in your state.

Here are some questions to ask before you launch a ballot measure campaign:

  • What are you trying to achieve and for what purpose (what are you trying to get passed)?
  • When do you need to run the ballot measure?
  • What election do you want to target for your ballot measure? (e.g., primary, general, presidential, municipal, special)?
  • Can this be done by passing legislation at the state, county, city or fire district level without running a ballot measure?
  • What do you need to amend? A state constitution, city charter, fire board regulation? Is it a combination?
  • What would the title and summary of the initiative look like and would that guarantee your goal of running this ballot measure as written?
  • Who puts together the official petition?
  • How many signatures do you need?
  • When are signatures due? Are they due all together or in batches?
  • Who can circulate petitions?

If you have questions about running a ballot measure or want to know more – request assistance from the IAFF Political Department

Independent Expenditures

An independent expenditure campaign or IE campaign is a political campaign that is not made in cooperation or consultation with the candidate or issue you support or oppose. IEs are not contributions to a campaign or issue. Your ability to lead an IE depends on your local or state’s municipal campaign finance laws. Not every jurisdiction permits an IE campaign.

Before you start an IE, evaluate what resources your local has to give to the existing candidate or issue campaign. For example, if your local does not have a lot of money but plenty of eager volunteers, it might be best and more efficient to send your members to the existing campaign. If you have a lot of money and a specific message that will assist your specific objective, then starting an IE may be best.

There are several requirements that you must meet to ensure you are legally compliant to run an IE campaign. You should meet with a lawyer before starting an IE campaign to make sure you meet all requirements and are doing everything lawfully.

The IAFF can help provide you with more information, walk through the process and put you in touch with legal counsel. Request assistance from the IAFF Political Department. 

Campaign Guides

The IAFF Political Department has provided you with guides to get your campaign started. Please note that one size does not fit all; however, regardless of the scale or duration of a campaign, the core principles will always apply.

  • Campaign Planning Guide: This is the written plan that guides your campaign. It will contain all elements listed below and anything anyone might need to know internally in your campaign.
  • Calendar Guide: Your calendar should include all important dates of your campaign, including special events, holidays, GOTV, financial reporting (before and after Election Day), filing dates, early voting, fundraising call time, communication plan, mailers, canvassing dates, etc.
  • Fundraising Guide: Make sure to include your fundraising goal and how you will achieve this goal. For example, you should include fundraising call time, special fundraising events and any other means.
  • Budget Guide: A good budget has expected expenses and tracks actual costs. Your budget should reflect every cost coming in or out and every anticipated expense related to the campaign.
  • Electoral Campaign Communications Guide: A good communication plan will ensure you are targeting voters where they get their information. This plan should include all earned media (e.g., newspaper op-eds) and paid media (e.g., social media ads).
  • Field and Canvassing Guide: This is how you plan to talk to voters and convince them to vote with you. This plan should include how many people you must contact to achieve your campaign win number and how many people you need to get there.

For assistance with campaigns, filling out the campaign documents or for more information on the selection of IAFF trainings available, Request Assistance.

Political Referendum Operations Partnership

The purpose of the Political Referendum Operations Partnership (PROP) Fund is to provide interest-free loans to assist state or provincial associations and local affiliates in campaigns related to referenda, ballot initiatives and constitutional/charter amendments.

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The IAFF Political Department provides support to our affiliate members and locals who want to become politically active and who are prepared to elect fire fighter friendly candidates at all levels of government. Please fill out the form below and someone from our team will get back to you.