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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Political Campaigns Are Ridiculous

$14 billion. According to the Center for Responsive Politics website, OpenSecrets.org, the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns will collectively cost nearly $14 billion. That is more than twice the amount spent in the 2016 elections (1). A polarized electorate, Trumpism, anti-Trumpism, several Supreme Court appointments, relentless fear-mongering by the corporate media, a global pandemic, and powerful nationwide social movements all fueled this grotesque aggregation of money and power.
This year’s increase is dramatic, but it’s in keeping with the generally increasing trend of campaign expenditures and collections from election cycle to election cycle. About half of the $14 billion collected for 2020 will be spent on congressional campaigns and the other half on the presidential election. The presidential contest in 2016 spent around $2.4 billion; in 2020, the final tally is expected to be around $6.6 billion, a staggering increase(1).
No matter how politically divided the people of the United States may be, the two political parties that jointly dominate our political life are alarmingly similar. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are the beneficiaries of this flux of cash, and they spend it like drunken sailors on shore leave. The largest, most influential corporations invest in both parties, with some splitting their money equally. In 2010, the Center for Responsive Politics found that 48 of the 100 top donors gave money to the Democratic Governors Association and Republican Governors Association. They found that the majority of “high profile donors that give to both sides include Comcast, Walmart, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Coca-Cola, AFLAC and Verizon. The majority of these corporations donate about the same amount of money to both sides, with five corporations giving exactly 50 percent: Novartis Corp, Kohlberg & Co, KKR & Co, Jacobs Entertainment Inc., and Intuit Inc.”. But it’s not just corporations: 22 percent of the staggering flow of money this year came from “small donors” that gave $200 or less (2).
How much money is $14 billion? Well, let’s look at some real-world examples. According to the UMass Boston website, the full-time in-state tuition and mandatory fees are $7,338.50 per semester. So, a Massachusetts resident could get their college education at UMass Boston for $14,677.00 per academic year. Using these figures, just under a million students could have a year of college paid for with the money spent by politicians trying to buy your vote in 2020. They could fund the full cost of a 4-year B.S. from UMass Boston for close to a quarter-million Massachusetts residents (3).
In fact, with the money from one election cycle, UMass Boston could have the college educations of the roughly 16,000 students that attend each year funded completely for about 60 years at the current in-state tuition rate. The $56 million that is spent in research funding at UMass Boston could be paid in full for 250 years, and the $159 million in financial aid currently given could be funded for 88 years (4). Ok, college isn’t for everyone ,I admit, and you’re skeptical that educating the populace may not be as important as political yard-signs and robocalls. Well, how about housing?
The Brookings Institute estimates the average cost of new construction housing for low and mid-rise, multi-unit dwellings is $200 per square foot for rural, suburban, and urban settings. Using these figures, our politicians could fund 70 million square feet of new domicile construction (5). At 1000 square feet of living area per person, we could house about 70 thousand people. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, “Approximately 58,000 family households experience unsheltered or sheltered homelessness in America on a given night, according to Point-in-Time (PIT) counts conducted in January 2017 by communities across the country” (6). So, we could house tens of thousands of families and have room for like ten thousand more. Also, that’s a lot of good-paying construction jobs to build this housing. I don’t think campaign buttons can compete with that.
Ok, so college education and a roof over homeless families doesn’t convince you. What about foodwe all need food, right? Well, many people don’t have any. The Greater Boston Food Bank, which I think we can all agree is a solid organization (seeing as 91 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to feeding someone), spent about $98 million on program servicesfeeding peoplein 2019. Using the money in question, we could feed the same amount of people until the year 2163 (7). 2020 election funds could cover the food banks’s expenses for almost 1500 years.
Admittedly, these figures are not the whole picture. For starters, there are no adjustments for inflation or other economic factors, and it is not reasonable to apply nationwide campaign fundraising to local financial issues. However, it is also not reasonable to look at the absolutely insane amount of money that is generated and spent in purchasing your vote, and not at least consider that there may be a better way. Acting like $14 billion is no big deal is dishonest.
I am not so naive as to think that any of these social issues can be resolved by throwing cash at them, but I thought I could offer some perspective. Both the Republicans and Democrats claim to be “for the people,” or “Making America great” or whatever, but wouldn’t it be great if one of those parties gave all of their money, just once, to people that need it? Imagine if one of the parties just took all of their cartoonish amount of cash and just put it to good use, actually helped people, no bullshit involved. Think of the goodwill and free publicity the donating party would get! Is it possible that they would get more long term return on their investment than the return they get from those corny commercials and the overpaid consultants they hire to tell them when to wear a tie and when to wear a sweater? Maybe you’re right: maybe I am just too cynical. Maybe spending $14 billion on campaign posters, buttons, and consultants is better spent than on people’s education, homelessness, or hunger.
(1) https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/10/cost-of-2020-election-14billion-update/
(2) https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2010/11/democrats-and-republicans-sharing-b/
(3)https://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/images/bursar/Fall_2020_Undergraduate_Tuition_and_Fees.pdf
(4) https://www.umb.edu/the_university/facts
(5) https://www.brookings.edu/research/making-apartments-more-affordable-starts-with-understanding-the-costs-of-building-them/
(6) https://www.usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/Homeslessness_in_America_Families_with_Children.pdf
(7) https://www.gbfb.org/pub/annual-report-2019/index.html?page=2
(8) https://www.loc.gov/item/lcwaN0000345/
(9) https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/99-total-population-by-child-and-adult-populations#detailed/1/any/false/1729,37,871,870,573,869,36,868,867,133/39,40,41/416,417