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Why Don't You Run For Office?: What You Need to Know about the Laws Governing Getting Elected

Justice Bill Pedersen III & Louis A. Bedford IV

Justice Bill Pedersen sits on the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals

Louis Bedford is a Civil Rights Attorney

ISSUE 15

SPRING 2024

ELECTION LAW

This article is designed to be a starting point for someone exploring a run for public office in Texas. It is not exhaustive, nor authoritative, but instead a primer for the inquisitive and ambitious. Running for office and becoming a candidate is a complicated undertaking, by design. A “candidate” is a person who knowingly and willingly takes affirmative action for the purpose of gaining nomination or election to public office or for the purpose of satisfying financial obligations incurred by the person in connection with the campaign for nomination or election.¹ 

 

What Should I Run For? 

The first question is: why run for office? The next: what office will you seek? This decision should be driven by your inspiration to seek public office. What office’s responsibilities include the issue(s) that have motivated you? For example, County Commissioners are very important officers in Texas state government, but have comparatively little influence over the regulation of reproductive health care, or policy related to the regulation/criminalization of narcotics, or the availability of compensatory damages in cases involving allegations of the negligent provision of health care services.² If you want to affect those policy choices, perhaps some other office is a better avenue to achieve your policy ambition. Are you motivated to simply serve your community in whatever capacity you can, or do you have a policy goal? If you simply want to serve your community, and the office or area of responsibility is less important to you, then you will make a more calculated choice about what race(s) you can win. For example, your ambition may be to become a District Judge. Many district court benches are held by individuals who have a lot of community support, and it may not be realistic to defeat the current occupants of those benches. Perhaps another elected position, which may be viewed as good preparation for the office you ultimately seek, is or will soon be available.

 

Many occupants of higher office have previously served in positions with relatively different responsibilities. Running for Governor, for example, is rarely a successful candidate’s first race for public office,³ though not impossible. Your first task, therefore, is to identify what office is the wise choice. “Wise,” for the purposes of this article, means both realistically winnable and within your competence. For example, seeking a position on the Texas Railroad Commission without familiarity with the oil and gas business will decrease your ability to be effective and may poorly serve your constituents. Other questions to consider include, but are not limited to: will voters view you as a qualified candidate? Will anything in your past come back to bite you? Will you have adequate resources to run an effective campaign? Politics is a noble, but sometimes tough enterprise.

 

Texas has three basic categories of public offices: federal, state, and local. Local offices include: Mayor, City Council, County Commissioner, County Judge, County Court at Law judges, Sheriffs, Constables, Municipal Court judges, and others. State offices include: State Representative, State Senator, Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Attorney General, Land Commissioner, Comptroller, Agriculture Commissioner, and more. Federal offices include United States Representative and United States Senator. Click here to view a helpful infographic explaining the disparate areas of responsibility for various public offices in Texas.

 

Qualifications for All Public Offices

You should only run for an office for which you qualify. For example, one must have been licensed to practice law for eight years to be eligible to serve as a district judge. Sheriffs are law enforcement officers and have specific required qualifications.¹⁰ Almost every office requires a certain time period during which you have been a resident of Texas and the particular jurisdiction you seek to serve.¹¹ The Texas Secretary of State’s website is quite helpful.¹²

 

Once you have decided on the office you intend to seek, then you must understand the details of eligibility. Almost all offices will require the payment of a fee accompanying an application for placement on the ballot, and some may have additional requirements.¹³ For example, some judicial candidates must acquire a certain number of signatures of registered voters, with certain identifying information, on a specified form.¹⁴ Failure to strictly follow these procedures and requirements may result in a candidate’s ineligibility for placement on the ballot, compromising all the time and money previously committed to this effort.¹⁵

 

Pursuant to HB 2384, effective September 1, 2023, a candidate for the office of chief justice or justice of the Supreme Court, presiding judge or judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, chief justice or justice of a Court of Appeals, district judge (including a criminal district judge), or judge of a statutory county court must provide the following information along with their application: the candidate’s application must include the candidate’s state bar number for Texas and any other state in which the candidate has been licensed to practice law.¹⁶ The application must disclose the following: any public sanction or censure as defined by Section 33.001 of the Texas Government Code that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct or a review tribunal has issued against the candidate; any public disciplinary sanction imposed on the candidate by the state bar; and any public disciplinary sanction imposed on the candidate by an entity in another state responsible for attorney discipline in that state.¹⁷ The application must include statements describing for the preceding five years the nature of the candidate’s legal practice, including any area of legal specialization, and the candidate’s professional courtroom experience.¹⁸ The application must disclose any final conviction of a Class A or Class B misdemeanor in the 10 years preceding the date the candidate would assume the judicial office for which the application is filed, if elected.¹⁹ Failure to comply with these specific requirements can render you ineligible for the ballot, and all the time and money you have invested will have been wasted. The Texas Secretary of State’s website provides additional materials on this.²⁰

 

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

You will also need to undertake the “affirmative action” described in the first paragraph of this paper to make your candidacy official.²¹Examples of such “affirmative action” include: (A) the filing of a campaign treasurer appointment; (B) the filing of an application for a place on the ballot; (C) the filing of an application for nomination by convention; (D) the filing of a declaration of intent to become an independent candidate or a declaration of write-in candidacy; (E) the making of a public announcement of a definite intent to run for public office in a particular election, regardless of whether the specific office is mentioned in the announcement; (F) before a public announcement of intent, the making of a statement of definite intent to run for public office and the soliciting of support by letter or other mode of communication; (G) the soliciting or accepting of a campaign contribution or the making of a campaign expenditure; and (H) the seeking of the nomination of an executive committee of a political party to fill a vacancy.²² You should consult all available resources and reach out to relevant agencies and offices to ensure compliance with all applicable campaign regulations. You must file these documents/credentials with the correct office. Depending on the candidacy, you may need to file with the local county office of the political party where you intend to stand for election, or alternatively, you may need to file with the state party’s office.

 

You will also need a campaign treasurer.²³ Anyone can be a campaign treasurer, except someone who is already a treasurer of a PAC that has outstanding reports or civil penalties.²⁴ Certain small money PAC treasurers may be able to serve as your campaign treasurer, but it’s important not to take any unnecessary risk.²⁵ A person who violates this prohibition is liable for a civil penalty not to exceed three times the amount of political contributions accepted or political expenditures made in violation of this section.²⁶

 

Now, a candidate can appoint him/herself as their campaign treasurer.²⁷ The applicable form for this appointment is required by law and can be found on the Texas Ethics Commission’s website.²⁸ This form is described as a “campaign treasurer appointment,” or CTA.²⁹ A CTA is a document that appoints someone to be the campaign treasurer for a candidate.³⁰ This form covers all information that is required by law.³¹ Candidates may not knowingly accept a campaign contribution or make/authorize a campaign expenditure when a CTA is not in effect.³²

 

The CTA will be filed in different places for different offices. The CTA will be filed with (1) the Texas Ethics Commission, if running for a statewide office, a district office filled by voters of more than one county, a judicial district office filled by voters of only one county, state senator, state representative, or the State Board of Education; (2) the County Clerk, if running for a county office, a precinct office, or a district office other than one included above; or (3) the Clerk or Secretary of the governing body of the political subdivision or, if the political subdivision has no clerk or secretary, with the governing body’s presiding officer, if running for an office of a political subdivision other than a county.³³

 

Campaigns run on money. You will need to open one or more accounts that are separate from any other account you maintain if you plan on accepting contributions.³⁴ This is likely the most fraught undertaking in a campaign. This part of the campaign process will require your personal and careful attention. Title 15 of the Texas Election Code regulates political funds and campaigns.³⁵ It’s so important to follow these requirements strictly. The candidate may be penalized by the Texas Ethics Commission both with the required payment of damages and penalties assessed by the Commission.³⁶

 

You may consider whether you should form a campaign entity outside of simply your own candidacy.³⁷ This is a complex and demanding enterprise. The boundaries of this undertaking are outside the scope of this article, but it is advisable to consult with an expert in the formation and operation of any such entity.

 

Running for office is an act of patriotism. Every elected official made the decision to become a candidate and followed the applicable legal requirements. You can do this.


 

Suggested Citation: Justice Bill Pederson III & Louis A. Bedford IV, Why Don't You Run For Office?: What You Need to Know about the Laws Governing Getting Elected, ACCESSIBLE LAW, Spring 2024, at 1.

 

Why Dont You Run for Office
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Sources:

[1] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 251.001(1).

[2] Tex. Loc. Gov’t. Code Ann. § 81.

[3] Hunter Schwarz, What jobs you should have if you want to be elected governor, Washington Post, (Sep. 12, 2014) https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/09/12/what-jobs-you-should-have-if-you-want-to-be-elected-governor/

[4] Railroad Comm’n of Tex., About Us, https://www.rrc.texas.gov/about-us/ (last visited Mar. 24, 2024).

[5] Tex. Sec’y of State, Election Officials and Officeholders, https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/voter/current.shtml (last visited Mar. 24, 2024).

[8] Id.

[9] Tex. Sec’y of State, Qualifications for All Public Offices, https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/candidates/guide/2024/qualifications2024.shtml (last visited Mar. 24, 2024).

[10] Tex. Loc. Gov’t. Code Ann. § 85.002.

[11] Tex. Loc. Gov’t. Code Ann. Title 3.

[12] Tex. Sec’y of State, supra note 9.

[13] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 172.024.

[14] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 172.

[15] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 145.003 (f).

[16] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 141.0311(b)(1).

[17] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 33.001.

[18] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 141.0311(b)(3).

[19] Id. at (b)(4).

[20] Tex. Sec’y of State, Candidate’s Guide to Nomination and General Election For 2024, https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/candidates/guide/2024/index.shtml (last visited Mar. 24, 2024).

[21] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 251.001(1).

[22] Id.

[23] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 252. 001.

[24] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 252.0011(a)(b).

[25] Id.

[26] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 253.0011(e)(f).

[27] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 252.0011(a); 252.004.

[28] Tex. Ethics Comm’n, Forms & Instructions Treasurer Appointments (TA), https://www.ethics.state.tx.us/forms/TREASindex.php (revised Jan. 1, 2024).

[29] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 252.002.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 252. 011; 253.031.

[33] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 252.005.

[34] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 253.040.

[35] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § Title 15.

[36] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 252.131; 253.134.

[37] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 252.0032.

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