How Much Does it Cost to be President?

Sumner Ellsworth

Earlier this year, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D – NY) made history by becoming the first presidential hopeful to refuse public funding.

When candidates accept public funding through the Federal Elections Committee, they are constrained by the requirements that are placed on fundraising. Public funding does not preclude private contributions, but it places limitations on what can be accepted and how it can be used.

In declaring independence from the money, Clinton also declared independence from the rules and essentially forced her rivals to do the same. What they found is that it was right to do so. Or at least lucrative.

As the first-quarter of the year draws to a close, the candidates are required to report their fundraising totals, and the multi-million dollar figures they’re reporting are record-shattering. Clinton was the leader in the field with $26 million. Senator Barrack Obama (D – IL) came in a close second with $25 million, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney led the Republican candidates with $23 million.

These staggering figures are revolutionary in political campaigning, and may usher in the most expensive presidential race in history, with experts predicting a multi-billion dollar contest.

But is this really what we want? Politicians always come in to office with ulterior motives. It’s understood, it’s part of the game.

But a person can only serve so many masters, and $26 million to $2 billion later, you have to wonder who those masters are. When a person “donates” that much money, there are usually strings attached, or at the very least the desire to keep in a person or organization’s good graces. Maybe it’s a lot to ask, but I want my governmental representatives to be serving me and my country, not the various lobbies and corporations that have them in their pocket.

It’s true that TV ads are expensive, and television is increasingly the media of choice, but this election season has also seen the advent of many new and innovative ways to reach the voters. The Internet is a huge resource that is just now beginning to be truly exploited. For example, most of the candidates have posted ads on YouTube. It’s a different demographic, and requires a different marketing strategy, but it’s also less expensive.

That a candidate can raise a lot of money doesn’t impress me. If it were up to me, elections would be entirely publicly funded. That way, the candidates could forget about fundraising and the politicking inherent in the act, and focus on what’s really important, the issues.