Each election year, the United States becomes uncharacteristically exciting. Not only does each American citizen participate, but the presidential election also becomes a display of “money burning.” Reports indicate that $2 billion was spent on the 2012 presidential election (some reports say that altogether the amount exceeded $6 billion), but because of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's participation in this year’s presidential election, the expense could be even greater.
Where does all of this money come from? And what is it spent on? Why do the American people tolerate leaders spending so much money?
Where Is This Much Money Raised?
Early in the beginning of the 19th century, when Andrew Jackson was running for president, companies and banks were the first to use money to influence the results of the presidential elections and the election of officials. Since then, the influence that money has on politics has steadily increased, and the cost of American elections has increased by several digits.
There are many sources of funds for the U.S. presidential elections. To put it simply, the funds can be separated into two categories. The first category comprises funds that come directly from the presidential candidate and that are used directly to fund the candidate’s election. The second kind of funds are used to indirectly support the presidential candidate’s election activities, but do not directly fund a candidate's election.
Donating Funds to a Presidential Candidate Is Freedom of Speech
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn laws limiting how companies, labor unions and other organizations can donate money to an election campaign. The Supreme Court said that political donations are a way to express freedom of speech; the decision was not only limited to personal donations, but also includes all industry, charities and labor organizations.
After this resolution was passed, many super PACs began to form in the United States. So long as their titles or advertisements did not contain any explicit words of support for a specific candidate, such as “Vote for Trump,” then super PACs could invest large amounts of money without the need to list these expenses as campaign expenses, according to the law, and could avoid oversight by the Federal Election Commission.
Raising Huge Amounts of Funds — Where Is the Money Spent?
You might ask, after raising this much money, could you even spend it all?
Actually, in the presidential election, spending a couple of hundred million dollars, or even a couple of billion, is not too difficult. Presidential elections must have teams of professionals and consultants plotting strategy and giving advice, which couldn’t cost more than a couple of million, right? You also need people to put a spin on things, which also requires several times $10 million. The most important thing in a presidential election is a person’s character, and in order to increase recognition and make more people aware of what you are doing, then you must advertise, which also costs money.
In addition to advertising, candidates must travel to many places to campaign. The United States is so large that you would also need to spend a sizable amount on travel expenses, right? A group of people must eat, sleep and buy things, which all costs money. Going to each location to merely give a speech won’t do; you also need to put on a show, print leaflets, and make campaign T-shirts and badges. No matter what, it will cost a couple of billion dollars all put together, and that is in U.S. dollars.
Is It Actually Worth It to Spend a Couple of Billion Dollars To Elect a President?
Up to this point, you might be asking yourself, is it really worth it to spend this much money?
Experts from the Brookings Institution, the noted U.S. think tank, say this: “The elections are designed to turn the American people’s views into votes for leaders. The resource of money is a necessary part of motivating the voters.”* Put another way, a successful election in the United States must have the greatest reach over the entire country in order to influence the greatest number of people. A national election with high participation from the people could potentially guarantee the stability of the administration of the government and leadership over the next four years.
Whether or not it is actually worth the money, the former political editor of The Los Angeles Times has a pretty good answer: “A president’s policies can directly cause tens of billions of dollars of financial deficit to increase or decrease, and according to the American people, spending $2 billion to determine who would be the best president is not too expensive.”*
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted material could not be independently verified.