Politics is central to our democracy. It’s how we make the decisions and compromises necessary to govern this big, diverse fractious country.
It’s also big business.
The leading candidates for President have spent a total of about $1.1 billion so far in the 2016 election cycle, according to Federal Elections Commission data. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent $199 million and $329 million respectively to get to the final round of the campaign. Where did all the money go? Mostly to the media and professional political insiders.
About 42% of that $1.1 billion was spent on media buys and ad production costs. That’s $429 million, the vast majority of which went to various television outlets, both local and national. Clinton spent $158 million on media outpacing her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, who shelled out $118 million. Trump spent just $91 million, a reflection, perhaps, of how much free airtime he received from cable news channels and other media outlets.
In a related category, GOP candidates Ben Carson and Ted Cruz spent heavily on direct mail campaigns targeting evangelical voters. Carson spent $14 million, Cruz $12 million. While Clinton and Sanders spent slightly more on mailings, these efforts were proportionally a much larger part of the Carson and Cruz budgets.
Consultants also fed heavily at the campaign trough, eating up $141 million (14%) of the candidates’ budgets for services like polling, research and data management. Interestingly, this is the only category where Trump, who has a shoot-from-the-hip reputation, out spent the seasoned and highly packaged Clinton. He bought $33 million in consulting services to her $22 million.
Every wonder how much it must cost to crisscross America for months on end chasing votes? A lot. Trump has spent $26 million on travel, Clinton $19 million. Trump’s travel costs are the highest percentage-wise of any candidate at 13%. On the upside, $6.7 million of that budget has gone to TAG Air, owned by… yep, Donald Trump.
Payroll is another big expense, accounting for an average 12% of the candidates’ spending. Clinton and Sanders were the runaway leaders in this category. She has spent $62 million on a staff that includes 54 people who make $100,000 or more. Sanders dropped $38 million on staff. The shoestring Trump campaign has payroll costs of just $6 million.
And like any business, there is overhead and miscellaneous spending. Those expenses account for 18% the candidates spending. Trump spent $40 million in this category while Clinton had $53 million labeled “other.” This category includes everything from office space and event production to “Make America Great Again” hats and cups of coffee at Starbucks.
You won’t be surprised to learn that a huge percentage of that $1.1 billion was spent with (or through) ad agencies and consultants in the Washington, DC area. That’s one of the many reasons I refer to Washington as America’s Green Zone. No matter how rough things get in the rest of the country – economically or politically, Washington’s political and government insiders will somehow benefit.
Numbers like this make it easy to be cynical about our political system; to start to believe it’s all about the money. The sums necessary to run for President are staggering. That money doesn’t come out of the blue. And it often has strings attached.
True, our electoral system isn’t perfect. But it’s still arguably the best in the world for giving citizens a voice. Support it today by voting. And tomorrow, figure out how you can help make it better.
Images courtesy of Forbes.