Economic Value of Presidential Election Campaigns: Wasted Money?

According to a recent report from NPR, it is estimated a staggering $4.4 billion will be spent on advertising campaigns during the 2016 presidential election cycle. Really? Yes, you heard or read me correctly – $4.4 billion! To quote GOP front runner Donald Trump, that is a HUGE number! This estimation, however, appears inaccurate since the Federal Election Commission reported more than $7 billion was expensed on advertising strategies during the 2012 presidential election cycle. Personally I find it unfathomable that the 2016 political circus will cost billions less than the 2012 one-trick pony show that entertained and disappointed the nation for months on end, but time will tell.

In attempt to put this into perspective consider the quantity of U.S. cities, towns, and counties that have filed for bankruptcy post 2000. They include: Stockton, CA ($26M); San Bernardino, CA ($46M); Boise Country, ID ($5.4M); Harrisburg, PA ($300+M); Jefferson County, AL ($4+B); and the list goes on and on.

With this in mind instead of wasting billions of dollars on presidential election campaigns – which if polled I assume the majority of Americans would agree dollars spent are essentially flushed down the toilet – why not redirect this money to more noteworthy causes. Yes, I realize bailing out governments incapable of managing fiscal responsibilities is probably a bad example. However, I would argue investing in higher risk government bonds normally equates to higher yields or return on investment (ROI), which is great from an investment perspective. Oops, that was a misnomer…government bonds are supposed to be relatively risk-free. Anyway, at the same time this capital infusion would benefit the working class (job protection/creation) and those in desperate need of government assistance (those not defrauding the system). Does this sound like a good alternative to throwing away billions on presidential election campaigns deliberately manufactured to mislead, misinform, or downright lie to the voting class? Okay.

Hey Detroit, MI… nope, I didn’t forget about your ridiculous $18.5+ billion bankruptcy filing. Even though the U.S. Census Bureau has your state pegged as having the tenth largest population in the country (despite the recent exodus) somehow your elected officials – the crème de la crème of leaders – drove your once prosperous Motor City into ruin. For a history lesson that tracks your rise and fall read this publication by The Week; bummer how things have turned out.

Moving on to another idea of how better to spend $4-7+ billion dollars.

Help U.S.A. estimates that “1.6 million children experience homelessness each year.” Despite the number of tax-payer funded government programs designed to combat this problem the reality is this pattern is trending in size – not shrinking. So in lieu of giving your candidate of choice hundreds if not thousands of dollars to assist in their frivolous campaign spending stop and consider for a moment who needs your support most – a political figure running for the highest office in the country with millions of dollars backing their respective efforts, or a homeless and hungry child dreaming of a better life? How many children could $7 billion feed and for how long? The math is not complicated. For example, $7.2 billion would help shelter and feed 1.6 million kids for 90 days at a rate of $50 per day. Although the immediate ROI is heart-felt focused this sounds like a better investment to me. Help U.S.A. – check them out.

The point I’m trying to convey is that the American presidential election campaigning process has become a total joke. Billions of dollars wasted on campaigns that in many respects are designed to be divisive, mean-spirited, and filled with half-truths, misinformation, and blatant lies. If you’re waiting for campaign reform don’t hold your breath because this is big business with lots of money at stake. Am I cynic? Not at all. Change can happen but it depends on how we choose to vote with our dollars. Personally I prefer to see billions of dollars invested in ways that boost economic activity in a more positive manner. So take a moment and think hard next time you’re weighing the pros and cons of donating hard earned cash to presidential election campaigns. Where is the money going? How is it being spent? What benefits are derived from such spending? Who stands to benefit most from your generosity?


Edmund Burden

I help business owners grow their businesses through effective use of financial technology tools. Personal finance is a passion of mine so I try to stay on top of all the trends and write about where I see the market going.

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