A lot of money sloshes in and around US politics. Presidential elections are only the most visible manifestation of this money.

And this money was on garish display in Iowa throughout the past several months. Being the first state in the Presidential primary race, candidates wanted to build some momentum. So they spent lavishly in Iowa.

Just how lavishly?

Let’s just look at the money spent on advertising, since these numbers are easier to come by. It’s worth noting that get-out-the-vote operations, events over the last year, merchandise, giveaways, mailed video players with preloaded documentaries, etc. etc. etc. all cost a LOT of money as well.

Money spent on advertisements:

Jeb Bush’s team spent $14.9 million USD, all from a Super PAC (a non-profit political organization that can collect unlimited donations).

Bush earned 5,238 votes. 1 vote for Bush = $2,800

Marco Rubio spent $11.8 million, mostly from Super PACs.

Rubio earned 43,165 votes. 1 vote for Rubio = $273

Ted Cruz spent $6 million, mostly from outside groups.

Cruz earned 51,666 votes. 1 vote for Cruz = $116

Donald Trump spent $3.3 million, all from his campaign.

Trump earned 45,427 votes. 1 vote for Trump = $73. What a bargain!

The Democrats don’t tally individual votes in Iowa (becauses the two parties do their Caucuses differently), so a straightforward comparison isn’t really possible.

So here are the sums they spent on advertisements:

Hillary Clinton spent $9.4 million, mostly from her own campaign.

Bernie Sanders spent $7.4 million, all from his campaign.

Millions more were spent by other candidates who have already dropped out or who have virtually no chance of winning the nomination.

Now--you can argue that campaign spending acts as an economic stimulus for the state. It provides jobs, funds local media networks and generates a lot of commerce as people around the country flock to participate in the activity.

But this is a short-sighted view. The effects of money in politics are ultimately harmful. In order for a candidate to gain any name recognition and traction in US politics, they need a steady stream of financial support. In the vast majority of cases this means courting wealthy donors and special interest groups. This money inevitably comes with strings attached that can dictate a candidate’s policy agenda, which ends up skewing and foiling the representative nature of democracy.

In this money-saturated system, poor people have virtually no influence. This tends to push inequality even higher by undermining attempts to end poverty.

When money is removed from politics--distributed in an impartial and regulated way--these kinds of institutional pressures fade and candidates can return to actually representing all constituents, not just those who can afford to get their interests endorsed.  

Plus, wouldn’t it just be better to fund a stimulus package that wasn’t soaked in partisan bickering?


Demand Equity

How much did the candidates spend per vote in Iowa?

By Joe McCarthy