Can You Afford to Be a Politician?

As civic-minded people know, politics is a money game. Do you have what it takes to play?

As civic-minded people know, politics is a money game. Do you have what it takes to play?
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In early July, a Gallup poll showed that 64 percent of Americans don't want their children to become politicians. Which is probably just as well. Most children seem to harbor hopes of becoming movie stars, professional athletes and veterinarians, and not of someday being Speaker of the House or judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It's the adults who daydream about running for office.

But as civic-minded people know, politics is a money game. Running for office, especially once you get to the state level, requires raising vast amounts of money. Beyond that, it also requires having green stuff of your own.

One may wonder why. After all, most politicians raise money from other people. As long as you have a legal place of residence, you could live in government-assisted housing and run for governor – and yet so many politicians are attorneys, physicians and businesspeople.

In fact, in the 113th U.S. Congress, there are 45 former or current lawyers and 22 businesspeople in the Senate, and 128 lawyers and 108 businesspeople in the House of Representatives. One member of the House was a youth camp director before running for office. Another was a mill supervisor. But generally, politics is akin to trying to join a posh country club. The rich people do it.

[See: 10 Golden Parachutes to Make Your Head Spin.]

It's nothing personal, though. Here are some reminders of why it helps to have money when you're competing in politics.

You need a career that will allow you time off. Politics can pay well, or reasonably well. The President of the United States currently makes $400,000 a year. The salary for most members of Congress is $174,000. The mayor of Omaha, Neb., who just requested a pay cut, will receive $102,312 a year, starting in 2014.

Whatever you make while in office, running for office is a job in itself that no one will pay you for, observes Rick Wade, a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"A candidate has to consider that the mortgage, car payment, utilities, child care, dog care and all of the other bills still have to be paid," says Wade, who now runs the Wade Group, a Washington, D.C.-based global business development firm.

Chris Randolph, based in Philadelphia, can attest to that. Randolph ran as an independent for U.S. Congress in 2004, when he was 33 and at a point in his career when he could take some time off work. He didn't have a family to support, and he was a contract researcher for a think tank. He didn't have to quit a job; he simply stopped working for his employer for five to six months.

While he spent $5,000 of his own money to win about 1,000 votes and ultimately be crushed by the incumbent, it was the not making money where he really lost out. "I lost almost a half a year's salary," says Randolph, who is now selling books and records online and is in the midst of starting a nonprofit.

Randolph didn't plan on spending $5,000 of his own money on his campaign, but things came up due to the difficulties of running against an incumbent and as an independent. Much of his five grand went to hiring an election lawyer and defending the signatures he collected to get on the ballot. Even if you don't encounter these obstacles when running for office, you may need to spend money on things you might not have considered, like childcare if you're off campaigning a lot, a new wardrobe or odds and ends like campaign signs and pizza for volunteers if the fundraising isn't going as well as you hoped.

[See: 10 Questions That Will Help You Earn More Money.]

Of course, not every office requires the same sacrifices. Some positions, like city council, mayor and county supervisor can be part-time and don't require as much time to campaign for, points out John Oxford, a director of external affairs and PAC chairman for Renasant Corporation, a bank holding company in Tupelo, Miss. Before aligning himself with a bank, Oxford ran numerous campaigns on the local and regional level.