The price of admission

It’s a big election day in the United States, and while politics is not ordinarily on my play list there is no ignoring a power shift that will have repercussions not just here, where the votes are still being counted, but around the world. I’ll let others rationalize the outcome, predict its consequences and do whatever moaning or gloating that deem necessary. I’d just like to spend a few minutes considering what it costs nowadays to run a political campaign in the United States — because whether you’re cheering or jeering today’s outcome, these spending numbers should be frightening.

In August, when there were still 77 days left until today’s outcome, the ad-tracking firm, TMS Media Intelligence, reported that:

“Political and issue advocacy television advertising is on pace to shatter the mid-term election spending record set in 2002 and possibly surpass the record set in 2004. From Jan. 1 — Aug. 13, 2006, a stunning $311 million has been spent on local television so far by the candidates, the political parties, as well as interest groups … a 150 percent increase over the amount spent during the same period in 2002.”

And those numbers were culled months ago. I found a National Public Radio report from October 10 that suggested political spending had passed the billion dollar mark. (You’ll have to click on the audio link to listen.)

The NPR report referenced the Campaign Finance Institute so I visited there and found a table titled Competitive House (of Representatives) races 2000-2006. (Not all House races are competitive due to gerrymandering that gives the incumbent of one or the other party an unbeatable advantage.)

According to the Institute, House incumbents who faced tight races had raised $2.4 million on average as of 20 days before this 2006 election. That was roughly double the comparable figure in the 2000 congressional races. The challengers in tight races this year had an average of $1.8 million in their coffers at this 20-day-before-election mark. That was about 70 percent more than the like figure in 2000.

Inflation hasn’t moved anywhere near that fast. Not even medical inflation. For goodness sake the only price movements of a similar scale have been on housing which has been in what looks to be a bubble that is cooling even as we speak. But if there is any force that is cooling the bubble in political fundraising and spending, I have yet to see it. Please point it out. I could use the good news.

If you have the time, do visit the website of the Center for Responsive Politics. They have posted one table of data for the 2006 election campaign. It’s called “Stats at a glance” that was current as of 7 November. If I’m reading the table correctly it says House and Senate candidates in this election raised $1.28 billion and spent most of it.

That seems like a lot. How much of that did you give? And if you didn’t give much, who did and what do they expect in return?