How do you start a new political party in the United States?

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The first step in organizing a new political party in the United States is to think of name and elect temporary officials in your party's first convention. Despite the pompous air a convention stirs, there is nothing special about it. You first convention could be in your back yard around the bar-b-que grill, for all it really matters. The party name, however, cannot be previously used. At a minimum, your party leadership should include a committee chairman and a treasurer. Collecting funds to elect an official to a federal, state, or local position is essential to the success of the party. As such, a bank account must be opened in the party's name. Be aware that you will be required to file financial documents and disclosures with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) when you reach the benchmarks laid out by the FEC. This next section comes direct from FEC website and includes two parts, when to register with the FEC and qualifying as a national or state party committee: When does my party committee need to register with the FEC? National and state party committees must register with the FEC once they make contributions or expenditures in connection with federal elections that exceed $1,000 in a calendar year. Local party committees must register with the FEC once they:
  • Make contributions or expenditures in connection with federal elections that exceed $1,000 in a calendar year;
  • Spend more than $5,000 in a calendar year on so-called "exempt activities"; or
  • Raise more than $5,000 during a calendar year in funds designated for use in federal elections.
As with other committees, parties must register by filing FEC Form 1 [PDF], Statement of Organization within 10 days after reaching the applicable threshold. Party committees should download the Campaign Guide for Political Party Committees [PDF] for more information about the laws that apply to them. How does a committee qualify as a state or national party committee? How does a committee qualify as a state or national party committee? The Commission determines whether committees meet the criteria for state or national party committee status through the advisory opinion process. For state committee status, the Commission has generally looked to see if the committee engages in activities that are commensurate with the day-to-day operations of a party at the state level, and if the committee has gained ballot access for its federal candidates. For national committee status, the criteria include:
  • Nominating qualified candidates for President and various Congressional offices in numerous states;
  • Engaging in certain activities--such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives--on an ongoing basis;
  • Publicizing the party's supporters and primary issues throughout the nation;
  • Holding a national convention;
  • Setting up a national office; and
  • Establishing state affiliates.
Consult our "Advisory Opinions" brochure for more information on how to obtain an opinion from the Commission. Once your party is up and running, you will need to elect permanent leadership and accept a Charter and Bylaws. In essence, the Charter and Bylaws are the constitution of the party. It outlines your party organization, and the relationships between other party organizations (such as state committee's for your party) and other operations your party may undertake (i.e. Presidential Elections, Senate and House elections, State elections, etc.). Your party's Charter and Bylaws may also outline the relationships between your national convention and your national committee. Your Charter and Bylaws may also establish who is eligible to run for public office (federal, state, and local), may include the basis on which your party was founded (party platforms, idealologies, philosophies, etc.), and should set out the goals and intents of the party as a whole. Remember during this process to keep meticulous notes. Every dollar raised and spent MUST be accounted for and reported to the FEC as well as Committee members, Party Leadership, and the general public. You will need to record the minutes of every meeting, the decisions voted for and against, officers elected, fundraising started and stopped, voters registered in the party, voter registration drives, and the list goes on and on. It goes without saying that at some point your party should retain a lawyer. The services of a good lawyer specializing in Constitutional Law, Election, Campaign and Political law will be invaluable. You might also search out a law firm practicing Local and/or Federal Government Law, Labor and Employment, and Administrative Law. They will need to file legal documents on your party's behalf at the federal level as well as State and Local levels.
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