Participating in a democratic society is not supposed to be a matter of dollars and cents, but indeed democracy has become a costly venture. Billions and billions of dollars are spent every election period to pay for the campaigns of those running for office at the local, state and national level. Unfortunately, injecting money into the electoral process has led to numerous problems from corruption of public officials to influence peddling by those seeking to sway the policy positions of those running for office or those seeking to retain their office. The role of money in American politics has become so dominant that questions are often raised about what really matters in our democratic system — the views and votes of the American people or the money spent to advance special interests.
Because the American electoral system is overwhelmed with money, politics paying for an army of campaign workers, legal counselors, specialized consultants, polling experts, media and Internet advertising, coast-to-coast travel and all those miscellaneous “extras” such as promotional hats and buttons is so costly that running for public office could not occur without sizeable cash contributions. For example, the cost of the 2020 election for President and Congress totaled $14.4 billion, which was more than double what was spent on the 2016 election. Add an additional $2.3 billion in campaign related expenditures and the cost to conduct elections (purchasing voting equipment and paying election workers) at the state and local level and it is obvious that democracy does not come cheap in the United States.
To pay for all the essentials of a political campaign, candidates and political parties rely on a mix of small donors, large individual contributions and multi-million-dollar transfers from what are called Political Action Committees (PACs) — corporate, interest group or political party related entities. In the 2020 election, small donors (providing on average $200) gave to Democratic candidates $1.8 billion, while the Republicans raised $1.1billion, which together was 23% of the contributions to campaigns. As to individual wealthy donors, the top 100 contributors were corporate executives and business leaders who donated $1.6 billion. And then the Political Action Committees, such as Donald Trump’s America First Action, which raised over $150 million, while Joe Biden’s Priorities USA Action raised over $100 million.