Can Campaign Spending Solve All of Our Financial Woes?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 6, 2012

election 2012The idea has been floated more than once over the last few weeks:  How about we take all the money that candidates have spent on advertising time, polls, yard signs, and general campaigning and just use that to pay down the deficit?  While those who suggest this wacky plan do so knowing that it will never actually take effect, there is something to be said for directly allocating our money where we need it most and getting rid of those annoying ads that have dominated the airwaves of late.

This, of course, begs the question of exactly how much has been spent on major political campaigns and what it could fund if appropriated elsewhere.  It can be fun to dream, after all.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the 2012 campaign season is set to be the most expensive ever, with federal elections expected to carry a final price tag of $6 billion.  That obliterates the record of $700 million set in 2008, largely due to relaxed rules regarding corporate donations which have spawned the creation of countless Super PACs.  Spending by groups that are technically unaffiliated with specific parties or campaigns is projected to exceed $970 million in 2012 – triple what it was in 2008.

When you factor in money spent on state and local campaigns across the country, it’s fair to assume that the final cost of the 2012 election is well over $10 billion.  So, let’s take a look at what one could do with $10 billion:

  • Pay almost 1% of the country’s 2012 budget deficit
  • Cover the cost of earning a degree at a four-year college for 112,304 students
  • Fund more than 1% of the entire 2012 U.S. defense budget
  • Buy a Big Mac for more than 2,380,952,380 people
  • Pay for more than 5 billion homeless people to eat dinner on Thanksgiving
  • Fund Washington, D.C. public schools for more than 20 years

Unfortunately, we all know that political candidates aren’t going to stop spending money on their campaigns.  In this, the era of Infotainment, Twitter, reality TV, and short attention spans, modern politics has turned into too big of a spectacle with too much on the line to expect a widespread giveback.  However, seeing just how much our elected officials are wasting and what we could buy with that money will hopefully lead you to make some changes with your own finances.

We as a society have an obsession with debt.  (It’s OK, the first step is admitting you have a problem).  You might assume that the Great Recession taught us enough of a lesson, but after starting to pay down what we owe to credit card companies during the worst of the downturn, we’ve picked up where we left off as the economy has started to recover.  We added $46.7 billion to our tab in 2011, and we are expected to incur another $43.5 billion in new debt this year.  (Hey, I think I’ve found another way we can use all that election money).

So, after you cast your ballot and follow the endless election coverage that follows, you may want to think about implementing some of these techniques for promoting responsible spending:

  • Use the Island Approach:  Designating one credit card for everyday purchases and another for revolving debt gives you a better perspective on spending.  Everyday purchases should always be paid for in full within the month, so if finance charges show up on your everyday spending card, you’ll know to cut back.
  • Make a Budget:  56% of consumers do not have a budget, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s 2012 Financial Literacy Survey.
  • Rethink Necessities:  10% of people say a flat-screen TV is a necessity, but if it’s between buying one and incurring costly debt, you might want to think again.
  • Set Up Automatic Payments:  You can establish automatic credit card payments in order to ensure that you pay your credit card bill in full each month.

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