Millions and millions of dollars are being collected and spent in the U.S. presidential bid. The most ever spent by candidates for president was $343.1 million in the 2000 election. The actual total of money spent was much higher, $528.9 million, which included general election public funding and convention public funding.
The rate at which money is being spent in this election cycle indicates that it will probably set a new record. As we go to press, the latest totals of funds raised for Senator John Kerry is $180 million. President George W. Bush raised $215 million for his reelection before stopping to raise funds for others.
There was a great ballyhoo over undue influence on candidates through large campaign contributions during the 2000 election cycle, which led to the U.S. Congress' passing of a campaign finance reform law. No sooner had the law taken effect than organizations and individuals began to pour money through loopholes.
One way is through groups supposedly not controlled by the political parties, such as MoveOn.org and The Media Fund, both opposing President Bush, which have spent about $25 million as of the end of May.
There are countless ways to rain money into a campaign. Linda Chavez, former union official and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics gives us this shocking insight: "Unions spend [an] estimated $800 million [on the presidential campaign], much of it hidden in the form of salaries for union officials assigned to work on political campaigns, get-out-the-vote efforts, and other unregulated contributions" ("Union Influence," Townhall.com, June 16, 2004, emphasis added).
Opensecrets.org catalogs the money spent in the 2004 presidential election cycle up through the end of May. First consider nine unsuccessful candidates for the Democrat ticket:
• Howard Dean—$51.5 million.
• John Edwards—$32.4 million.
• Wesley Clark—$28.6 million.
• Dick Gephardt—$20.9 million.
• Joe Lieberman—$18.7 million.
• Dennis Kucinich—11.4 million.
• Bob Graham—$5.4 million.
• Al Sharpton—$687,000.
• Carol Moseley Braun—$600,000.
On their own quest for the White House:
• Lyndon Larouche—$9.3 million.
• Ralph Nader—$900,000.
• John Kerry—$120.4 million.
• George W. Bush—$150.3 million.
That comes to a little over $450 million, with more than five months and two major conventions to go. That does not include money spent on the races for the U.S. Senate and House openings, already nearly $360 million. And these figures do not include the actual cost of receiving, tallying and reporting the votes (or the cost of legal challenges, such as in Florida in the 2000 election cycle). Nor does it measure the amount of money spent by the news media reporting on the campaigns.
The actual cost of the 2004 election cycle will certainly exceed a billion dollars and likely more—much, much more. Saying it isn't so bad, Pete Du Pont noted: The U.S. spends twice to three times as much on potato chips as it does on political activity—merely 0.05 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product ("Hooray for Campaign Spending," Opinion Journal, wsj.com, July 11, 2001). He added that $100 million was spent in 1995 just to market Seinfeld reruns. (Not only does the amount of money spent on elections seem obscene, but the idea that so much is spent on potato chips and TV's "slop culture" is not cheerful either!)