$10,440 in South Carolina = $0 in Vermont

Thanks to Alvin Greene, we now know that there’s a filing fee of $10,440 to get your name on the ballot to run for the U.S. Senate from South Carolina. That shocking fact made me wonder what other states charge. So, I looked it up, in an effort to put it all together in a chart [which I did: see below]. Now, after often fruitful and sometimes frustrating internet searching and phone calls to various Secretaries of State and Election Commissions, I have my answer, and it’s not pretty.

A nationwide hodgepodge

The fees and requirements differ wildly from state to state.  The theme is the same all over: Someone wants to run for federal office. It’s the variations that are a crazy-quilt. In some states, all you have to do is pay a minimal fee, fill out some simple forms, show your ID, and voila, you’re on the primary ballot. In others, the filing fee is based on a percentage  [usually 1 or 2 percent] of the salary of a U.S. Representative or Senator. [That’s the deal in South Carolina, where that $10,440 is 1 percent of the current total salary received by a U.S Senator over a full six-year term. Other states charge a percentage of only one year’s salary.]

In some states, you pay no fee at all, but in exchange, you need to get a lot of valid signatures [and those numbers and formulas vary from state to state, too] on nominating petitions. Or, you might get a discount on the filing fee by gathering a requisite number of valid signatures, each of which is given a dollar value [actually a very small percentage of a dollar] that’s subtracted from the fee.

States [some of them] behaving badly

What I learned from this project: 1) While some states make it fairly easy to run for federal office, many seem to be making major efforts to limit participation. 2) Much of the decision-making about filing fees and formulas for nominating petitions is left to the official Democratic and Republican parties in each state–and it appears that they are intent on keeping out the  “riffraff,” not only within their own ranks, but particularly those who have the audacity to run as independents or members of third or fourth parties. 3) The inconsistency of filing fees and petition regulations among the 50 states is an object lesson in what happens when we leave things up to the individual states [you know, like voting rights, Medicaid, health insurance, etc]. 4) Filing fees are not the most important issue facing state election commissions and candidates, but they may be indicative of a state’s or political party’s mindset about civic engagement. 4) If you want to run for federal office, you’d better be serious about it [that’s not a bad thing], but consider yourself lucky if you’re a resident of a state like Missouri.

See for yourself

You can draw your own conclusions from the table below. I’ve listed only the filing fees for U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and only for candidates running as Democrats or Republicans in 2010. Fees and requirements can differ for candidates from “third” or “minor” parties, and if you want to get into that mess, make your own chart. All information is as close to complete as I could make it, given that some state websites either bury these fees very deeply, print them in the smallest possible type,  remove them between filing periods, or don’t list them at all.  And they can change from one election cycle to the next. My inquiry about filing fees to one state’s Election Commission [I’m not naming names] resulted in a 10-minute hold, while several administrators searched for the Candidate’s Manual.  Another state office informed me that “the only person in this state who knows that stuff is out of town this week.”

And now, the chart. [If you find errors, please let me know.]

StateFiling fee for U.S. CongressFiling fee for U.S. SenateNominating Petitions?
Arkansas$7,500 [R]
$8,000 [D]
$12,500 [R]
$10,000 [D]
California$1,740$3,480Fees or petitions
District of Columbian/an/an/a
Louisiana$300$600Fee or petitions
New Hampshire$50$100Fee or petition
New Jersey$0$0Yes
New Mexico$0$0Yes
New York$0$0Yes
North Carolina$1,740$1,740No
North Dakota$0$0Yes
Oregon$100$150Fee or petitions
Rhode Island$0$0Yes
South Carolina$3,480$10,440No
South Dakota$0$0Yes
Texas$3,125unavailableFee or petitions
West Virginia$1,740$1,740No

Table: Copyright 2010, Gloria Bilchik/Occasional Planet