On Monday, the New York Times published a shocking article predicting a record number of campaign spending this election cycle and highlighting Federal Election Commission Chair Ann Ravel’s admission of the agency’s inability to curb this spending due to gridlock. What was particularly surprising to me was the amount of money that is predicted to be spent: a whopping $10 billion.
And while this year is projected to be record-breaking, campaign spending has been increasing dramatically for years, with this cycle predicted to double what was spent in 2008 and more than triple what was spent in 2000.1
Statistics presented by TIME Magazine based on data from the FEC also show that the cost of running for Congress rose 555% from 1984 to 2012. This is striking when compared to growth over the same time period for healthcare, GDP, and income.2
In today’s post though, I would like to provide some perspective about how much money $10 billion really is, to illustrate how truly outrageous this amount is:
According to Zillow, the average price of a home in San Francisco is $1,022,500.3 With $10 billion, you could buy almost 9,780 homes in San Francisco.
For $10 billion, you could buy 50,000 Lamborghinis, the average price of which is about $200,000.4
In 2014, Twitter reported an annual revenue of $1,403 million meaning that campaign spending in 2016 could be almost 10x the revenue of Twitter.5
And the most expensive airplane Boeing makes, the Boeing 777-9X, costs $388.7 million. $10 billion could buy about 25 of these planes.6
Now, the items listed above are largely frivolous, superficial products or sums that don’t really have an impact on the average person. So I started thinking about other places this $10 billion could go and the type of impact it might have there. Think about $10 billion in these ways:
With $10 billion, we could pay 405,022 people a $12/hour wage, 40 hours a week for one year.
With average private college tuition at $31,231 for 4-year schools, we could pay for 80,048 students to attend college all four years.7
Cancer drugs now cost about $10,000 per month, or $120,000 a year, meaning $10 billion could pay for a year of treatment for 83,333 patients.8
And according to the USDA, the cost of monthly groceries for a family of four on a “liberal” food plan is $1,287.80, or $15,453.60 for the year.9 This means that $10 billion could cover the cost of food for close to 647,098 families for a year.
As these numbers indicate, campaign finance spending has spiraled out of control. $10 billion is a ridiculous amount of money, particularly when you think about the fact that it is all spent within a two year period. Unfortunately, this limitless spending has allowed wealthy donors greater access to politicians. With the ear of the candidate, they’re able to elevate the issues they feel most passionate about, which undoubtedly are not the same issues that are important to lower-income and underrepresented citizens. The end result is that some political voices end up being louder than others.
And this is not to say that there aren’t groups out there already working to combat the growing influence of money in politics. CounterPAC, co-founded by T4A.org innovator Jim Greer, was created in 2014 with the goal of reducing the amount of dark money in campaigns. The group decided to focus specifically on this untraceable spending because, as Greer pointed out, “That’s something that I think really people from across the political spectrum can honestly agree is corrosive and really indefensible.”10 Issue One is another organization fighting to reduce spending, believing that this influx of money is a huge risk to our democracy. The advisory board of the organization is made up of bipartisan law-makers and thought leaders, proving that there is indeed support on both sides of the aisle for reform. Co-chair of the advisory board, former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) even co-wrote an op-ed in 2014 with Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) arguing for a Constitutional amendment to reform how we fund campaigns. Efforts like this, particularly those that are bipartisan, give me hope that change really is possible.
My point is not that we shouldn’t donate to campaigns or participate in elections in this way, but I think we need to take a step back and think about where this money is really going. People may argue a trickle-down theory, saying that getting the right people in office will benefit the more underrepresented groups. But what if we gave this money directly to organizations helping these communities? Is it possible we’d see a bigger impact?
1 Open Secrets. (n.d.). The Money Behind Elections. Retrieved from https://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/
2 Scherer. M, Rebala, P., and Wilson, C.(2014, Oct. 23). The Incredible Rise in Campaign Spending. TIME. Retrieved from http://time.com/3534117/the-incredible-rise-in-campaign-spending/
3 Zillow. (n.d). San Francisco Home Prices & Values. Retrieved from http://www.zillow.com/san-francisco-ca/home-values/
4 TrueCar. (n.d.). Lamborghini Prices. Retrieved from https://www.truecar.com/prices-new/lamborghini/
5 Twitter. (2015, Feb. 5). Twitter Reports Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2014 Results [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://investor.twitterinc.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=894844
6 Boeing. (n.d.). About Boeing Commercial Airplanes – Prices. Retrieved from http://www.boeing.com/company/about-bca/
7 College Board. (n.d.). College Costs: FAQs. Retrieved from https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/college-costs/college-costs-faqs
8 Rabin, R.C. (2014, May 6). Chemo Costs In U.S. Driven Higher By Shift To Hospital Outpatient Facilities. WebMD. Retrieved from
9 United States Department of Agriculture. (March 2015). Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, March 2015. Retrieved from http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/CostofFoodMar2015.pdf
10 Gold, M. (2014, Jul. 31). Yet another super PAC is using big money to take on big money. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/07/31/yet-another-super-pac-is-using-big-money-to-take-on-big-money/
1) San Francisco photo via http://cruiseline.com/advice/destinations/insider-s-guides/insider-s-guide-to-san-francisco
2) Lamborghini photo via www.lamborghini.com
3) Twitter photo via https://www.marketingweek.com/2015/04/01/twitter-can-be-crucial-to-connecting-people-at-this-general-election/
4) Boeing photo via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undercarriage_arrangements#Boeing
5) $12 wage photo via http://thehill.com/regulation/labor/240301-dems-push-for-12-minimum-wage
6) Colleges photo via http://www.thebestcolleges.org/most-beautiful-campuses/
7) Chemotherapy photo via http://canceradvisor.eu/chemotherapy/
8) Fruits & vegetables photo via http://www.eathealthytreats.com/2015/01/21/alliance-healthier-generation-eat-healthier/