Soaring costs of U.S. elections
August 20, 2020 - The 2020 U.S. Presidential and Congressional elections will likely exceed the record $6.29 billion spent on the 2012 contest. Campaigns have raised more than $4.77 billion so far – with months to go to the vote.
President Donald Trump raised $165 million in July for his campaign outpacing Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, who raised $140 million last month as a record-setting pace of money continued to flood into the presidential campaign. Trump has raised $342.70 million to June 30 while Biden had receipts of $278.85 million.
More eyewatering is the $2 billion-plus raised by the 27 Democratic presidential candidates that dropped out of the race.
The sums are far higher than in the 2016 presidential campaigns when Hillary Clinton raised $89 million with the Democratic Party in July and Trump collected $80 million.
The 2016 presidential elections cost $2.39 billion when spending by candidates and various interest groups are combined, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Including expenditures by candidates for other federal offices -- members of the House of Representatives and the Senate -- the total figure skyrockets to about $6.5 billion.
The upward trajectory of campaign spending took off in 2008 when Barack Obama, as the Democratic nominee, declined federal financing -- a legacy of reforms adopted in the wake of Watergate scandal. Instead, Obama raised $436 million, giving him a substantial financial advantage over Republican John McCain, who took $84 million in public funds.
Polling shows that a vast majority of Americans favour legal limits on spending in federal elections. However, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that limits on campaign spending conflict with the Constitutional guarantee of free speech.
NOTE: The data for 2020 is "money received" (not spent) obtained from FEC (up to the end of June i.e. at 4 months to go). The historical data is for money spent (by political parties and independent interest groups) and was obtained from Open Secrets.
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