No one ever said democracy was cheap.
Americans who are running for federal elective offices spent more than ever -- about $6.8 billion -- in that pursuit, including the nastiest presidential election in recent memory, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. That’s more than what consumers spend on cereal ($6 billion), pet grooming ($5.4 billion) and legal marijuana ($5.4 billion).
The nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics estimates spending on the Clinton-Trump contest at more than $2.65 billion, actually down a bit from $2.76 billion in 2012 when Democratic incumbent Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Trump, a real estate tycoon, bought fewer ads than many experts predicted because he benefited from huge amounts of free press. Candidates seeking House and Senate and the independent groups supporting them are expected to shell out $4.26 billion this year versus $3.85 billion during the 2012 presidential election.
“It’s only down slightly when you adjust for inflation,” said Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “That, I believe, is because you had two active primaries. In 2012, we only had one.”
Clinton’s primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, ran a surprisingly tough campaign and raised more than $228 million, mostly from small donors. Trump defeated more than a dozen GOP primary rivals, including early favorites such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The Supreme Court’s controversial “Citizens United” decision upended the campaign finance system in 2010 by throwing out restrictions on political spending by independent groups. In the current race, so-called Super Pacs have raised nearly $600 million (including $189.4 million for Clinton and $59.3 million for Trump.) Sanders made overturning “Citizens United” a focal point of his campaign, and Clinton supports a constitutional amendment to scrap the decision.
“We see more money going toward Super Pacs because they didn’t exist before Citizens United,” she said, adding that the groups are “able to raise more and more and more than anybody imagined. That makes the overall cost of the election go up even more quickly.”
According to The Washington Post, 10 mega-donors have been especially generous donors to Super Pacs, including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, former New York mayor and media tycoon Michael Bloomberg and billionaire George Soros.
As more money floods into politics, voters’ cynicism becomes more pronounced. According to Gallup, the majority of Americans have negative views of both presidential candidates. Only 31 percent thought the election process was working as well as it should, not to mention whether the costs are justified.