9 Nov 2012

The deep pockets of the presidential candidates

What could you get for $2.5 billion?
This election has been the most expensive presidential campaign in history, and is currently estimated to have cost over $2.5 billion. This money comes from parties, the public ($750 million was raised from donations under $2,500), influential groups (such as super PACs) and other sources that remain ‘anonymous’. This sounds scary, doesn’t it?

It should sound scary. One of the most important races in the world is controlled by the money of anonymous benefactors that inevitably hold power over the candidates. 1% of the donors gave 60% of the money to the candidates. This mysterious 1% holds a worryingly strong hold on the candidates, holding influence over people and policies. The winning candidate will have to return the favour to their extremely rich benefactors somehow.

The money mostly goes towards advertisements in the battleground, or swing, states. There were 300,000 of them in the last month alone. The question remains, however; is this value for money?

The candidates have spent all of this money and, once again, the election has come down to a few hundred thousand voters in Florida, Ohio and a couple of other swing states. The turnout of the seven most important toss-up swing states equates to 25 million. Thus, the presidential campaign effectively spent $1,000 per tangibly important vote.

So, it begs the question: what could this $2.5 billion have been spent on instead?

  1. 9 Airbus 380s – these double-decked, wide-bodied monstrosities of comfort are powered by four engines and would set you back $285 million each. And why not buy nine? Just in case the previous eight break down.
  2. 7,152 Aston Martin Vanquishes – fitting perfectly into this time of Bond fever, an Aston Martin is the dream of many men. At £190,000 each, we could buy over 7,000 Vanquishes. Not only could these easily replace Bond’s after he’s heartbreakingly crashed it in Casino Royale, but I’m sure the auto industry wouldn’t mind this kind of investment to give it a boost in these tough economic times.
  3. 7.6 million iPad Minis – The latest addition to Apple’s family of gadgets, the iPad mini will be on many Christmas lists. But with the money spent on the election, we could buy over 7 million of these. Now, I’m not sure this would be any more sensible than spending billions on adverts trying to influence an election, or that storing these would be an easy feat, but it does make one wonder. 
  4. Humanitarian Aid – On a more serious note, $2.5 billion could provide 400 million mosquito nets to people in Africa in need of protection against malaria; it could vaccinate millions against deadly diseases such as meningitis; more close to the US, $2.5 billion could offset the worst effects of Hurricane Sandy, helping millions of victims across the east coast and the Caribbean. 
  5. Fuelling the war in Afghanistan – the United States is currently spending more than $100 billion a year in Afghanistan, amounting to roughly $273 million per day. So the money spent in this election could have financed the war for a whole week, instead of it coming out of the public purse. 
  6. Cutting into government debt– well, it may be a drop in the ocean, but you have to start somewhere. We could immediately wipe out 2% of the UK’s debt with that amount of money or, more sensibly, use it to stimulate the economy and bring down the deficit, which would help everyone in the long run.
  7. One Mars Exploration Rover - to explore the wonders of a new planet and collect important scientific data.
  8. Two Amazon Headquarters - the company bought a large chunk of its Seattle Headquarters buildings in October. If it had the amount of money spent on the US election, it could buy these twice over.

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