If you’re thinking about running to be leader, get ready to pony up more than half a billion dollars, judging from the last two campaign cycles and current fundraising trends.
Presidential elections are an expensive venture. At first glance, it may not appear that standing on a stage telling people why they should vote for you would be costly. However, the costs associated with getting a candidate’s name out there nationwide for all to become familiar with can be quite expensive.
It’s very difficult to track campaign expenditures across time. Changes in the numbers might be due to different campaign finance disclosure requirements. For example, thanks to the Citizens United decision in 2010, politicians can rely on outside groups called Super PACs to run advertisements, even if they technically aren’t supposed to “coordinate” with each other. Campaign operations have also changed significantly over the last few decades, evolving from a focus exclusively on TV and radio to robust online advertisements. Even when adjusted for inflation the amount of money it takes to become President has increased more than 250-fold from Abraham Lincoln to Donald Trump. Super PACs have no limit on contributions. Corporations, labour unions, and other organizations may contribute as much as they want.
The catch is that a Super PAC must be independent and cannot contribute directly to a candidate and must disclose their donors (although by funnelling through a non-profit organization, disclosure rules can often be avoided or obfuscated). Super PACs can run ads supporting preferred candidates or bashing their opponents — they are just not able to coordinate with the candidate’s campaign or have a direct connection.
The amount of funds raised from corporations and other groups outside traditional campaign committees increased with the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which, along with other legal developments, loosened laws around election fundraising and spending. In addition, it seems campaigns are feeling more pressure, with each subsequent funding cycle, to raise more and outside groups are getting better at raising money.
These loopholes allow candidates to raise money through Super PACs they support and remain separate enough to stay within the law. Jeb Bush delayed his campaign specifically to raise as much money as possible directly through Super PACs. You are not violating any laws if you have not declared as a Presidential candidate yet.
To win the 2004 election, George W. Bush spent $345 million, which was the most expensive campaign in history at the time. The record didn’t last long: In 2008, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics, the total amount of money spent by and for Barack Obama came in at $730 million, far surpassing Republican nominee John McCain, who spent a mere $333 million—and more than double Bush’s outlay.
Usually, the candidate who spends the most money wins. However, that did not prove true during the 2016 elections, when the runner-up, Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton, spent $768 million, nearly twice as much as the eventual winner, Republican candidate Donald Trump, who spent $450 million. Many also noted that the figure could have been even higher had Trump not used free media coverage.
But fundraising in the 2020 presidential race is outpacing that of the last two campaigns. Bernie Sanders with about $74 million, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with about $60 million and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, with $51 million, based on Federal Election Commission data posted on Oct. 16. Despite polls showing former Vice President Joe Biden as the front-runner, his fundraising lagged at about $37 million.
Since Trump is planning to run for re-election in 2020, he chose not to terminate his campaign committee. He has targeted $1 billion as the total he would like to raise for his campaign. The Trump campaign said it raised $30 million in the first quarter of 2019, bringing the campaign’s cash on hand to $40.8 million.
It’s worth wondering if these numbers are anything to worry about. Is a billion dollars that much money when it comes to deciding who should be President? To keep things in perspective, Americans spent over $1.8B on peanut butter in 2017 alone. Picking a President seems much more serious and rather inexpensive by comparison, even if Trump decides to advertise during the Super bowl.
To address the original question: you can spend as much as you want in running for President, but if you want to win, the ante is somewhere around $500 million, and it may actually top $1 billion per major party candidate this year. Yes, it seems outrageous, but keep things in economic perspective. We spent almost $600 million on snacks during the last Super Bowl. Surely, a Presidential election is more important than halftime guacamole.
So, if you’re planning to make a run for the White House, you’ll want to start saving your money now!
Note: All information collected from the data in Investopedia website