It’s that time again when presidential hopefuls begin to hit the campaign trail in one of America’s oldest traditions, the presidential election. As in years past, there will be speeches, TV ads and spending, lots of spending.
As the 2016 election approaches it is almost certainly going to be a costly one. According to the Federal Election Commission, which governs campaign spending, the 2012 election had a $7 billion price tag. This total eclipsed the expectation of $6 billion. According to Dr. Adam Lawrence, Associate Professor of Government & Political Affairs at Millersville University, voters should be concerned about this trend of increased spending.
“I believe that when a vast overwhelming majority of spending comes from a very few extremely wealthy contributors, there is a problem,” Lawrence says.
One example Lawrence provided was the Newt Gingrich campaign in 2012, which was sustained by a single wealthy contributor. Lawrence noted that not everyone agrees with his thinking, but it is important to see where the money is being spent.
Following the conclusion of the 2012 election, the FEC gathered finance reports filed from Jan. 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2012 for its report on campaign spending. During the two-year disbursement period, independent expenditures and electioneering communications totaled $1.3 billion. Advertising accounted for the main totals of funds spent. Barack Obama’s campaign spent $404 million on ads, of which 85 percent were negative toward his competitor. Mitt Romney’s campaign spent his $492 million, 91 percent of which were negatively slanted toward Obama.
As always Political Action Committees, unions and corporations who contribute money to campaigns to help garner support for their candidates, play a crucial role and 2012 was no exception. The benchmark Supreme Court case Citizen United v. FEC, “opened the door to direct spending on elections by unions and corporations, including nonprofits taking the corporate form.” In 2012, super PACs accounted for $317 million combined, with Romney getting support from hefty donors such as Sheldon and Miriam Adelson who donated $30 million. These massive offerings are tied to the Citizen United win. As Lawrence points out, the increase in spending is not surprising.
“Even without the Citizens United decision, campaign spending tends to increase every year, if only because of inflation,” but now due to Citizen United, “more and more candidates have figured out how to use Super PACs to their advantage.” So the trend continues.
Likewise, FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, quoted in an article in Politico, believes future elections will see a continued rise in costs. However, Weintraub’s concern lies not with the spending, but with transparency.
“I’ve been trying to work on rules that would enhance transparency, but I haven’t been successful so far,” Weintraub says.
So as the 2016 election creeps closer, it will unleash a financial fury of policies and promises. As campaign choruses are sung, the stream of money will likely be more of a flow than a trickle. Let the spending begin.