Presidential campaigns cost enormous amounts to fund and never has that old saying, “money is power” been truer. In the past five presidential elections the winner has been the candidate with the fattest piggy bank. For more than a century people have been proposing ideas for reform. However, with the skyrocketing spending for the 2012 race to the White House, reform is not evidenced.
Taking a fairly short historic look at the steady increase in presidential campaign spending reveals the road to our current status. According to a report on USNews.com in October 2008:
• $92.3 million: Total spending by presidential candidates in 1980
• $103.6 million: Total spending by presidential candidates in 1984
• $210.7 million: Total spending by presidential candidates in 1988
• $192.2 million: Total spending by presidential candidates in 1992
• $239.9 million: Total spending by presidential candidates in 1996
• $343.1 million: Total spending by presidential candidates in 2000
• $717.9 million: Total spending by presidential candidates in 2004
• $310 million: Total spent by John Kerry in the 2004 election
• $345 million: Total spent by George W. Bush in the 2004 election
Senator John Kerry and President Bush were entitled to government matching funds during the primaries, but refused them to free themselves of federally mandated spending limits. Their decision helped make this presidential election the most expensive in history. That trend seems to be gaining momentum. Senator John McCain raised $368 million for his 2008 bid for the White House. President Barack Obama’s campaign raised nearly $750 million for the 2008 election and has pledged to raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign. (Yes, that’s billion—with a B.) As of March 31, President Obama had 10 times the cash on hand as Mitt Romney, but the Romney camp is ramping up.
None of this gross outlay of cold cash is going to end any time soon. It is a requirement to win the highest office in the land.
“America is the largest democracy in the world and that’s going to cost a lot of money to express yourself and get your message out, get the vote out, get people to support you and put in (campaign) infrastructure,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.
How does it make you feel to think of these hundreds of millions being used for TV ads, hotel rooms and deli platters? It may feel like ice water in your face or a sucker punch to the gut in light of the economic struggles of many Americans.
The sad fact is that this system was created by the voting public. It may be terribly misguided and out of balance but it is a part of the U.S. democratic process. Above all else, Americans prize democracy; freedom.
The freedom to choose a leader comes at the high price of “getting to know” the candidates so you can decide. Perhaps if enough constituents raise their voices in unified disapproval of the excess, wisdom will prevail and progress will begin on functional campaign spending reform.
Could a six year, one term presidency help? If campaigns were only mounted every six years instead of four, simple math would indicate quite a decrease in spending. Additionally, the incumbent wouldn’t be forced to divide his time between running the country and apply for the job to continue running the country.
Greater minds will have to actually come up with workable solutions. But first there has to be bi-partisan agreement that there is a problem and it is a costly one: to all of us!