$4 Billion in Election Spending a Drop in the Bucket

It might seem like a lot of money but it pales in comparison to the federal budget.


It has been well-reported that the 2010 midterm elections were the most expensive in history, with a total cost that is now expected to equal roughly $4 billion. This cost includes all federal election spending over the two-year election cycle by political parties and congressional candidates, as well as independent groups who spent big money to influence voters. While such unprecedented spending certainly commands attention, some broader perspective shows just how big (or small) $4 billion truly is. 
Compared to other recent elections, 2010 campaigns were without a doubt unusually pricey. The projected $4 billion spent during the 2010 election cycle is a sharp increase over recent midterm elections. This total is nearly one-third more than the $3.1 billion spent in the 2006 midterm elections and over 50 percent more than the $2.6 billion spent in the 2002 elections (all figures for past elections are in 2010 dollars). Yet it is also less than the amount spent in either of the last two presidential elections. This year's $4 billion price tag is less than three-quarters of the nearly $5.4 billion spent in the 2008 cycle and less than four-fifths of what was spent in the 2004 congressional and presidential elections. The 2010 midterm election cost is also slightly higher than the $3.9 billion spent in the 2000 elections. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
Indeed, $4 billion is a large sum of money, but it can be difficult to conceptualize this kind of spending largesse. Compared to certain other government expenditures, the projected price of this year's campaigns is surprisingly large. For example, $4 billion is:
- 10,000 times President Obama's annual salary of $400,000, and over 100 times the annual salary of his entire White House staff combined
- Nearly 80 percent more than the amount the United States has pledged and spent on reconstruction efforts after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake (includes $1.1 billion spent immediately post-quake, plus an additional $1.15 billion pledged)
- Slightly more than the $3.7 billion that the Department of Defense plans to spend in FY 2011 on the Ballistic Missile Defense System
- Roughly equal to the amount that the Department of State has requested for assistance to Afghanistan in FY 2011 [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]
But $4 billion is pocket change when compared to the larger role of money in U.S. state and federal governance. The cost of the 2010 elections is:
- Less than 5 percent of the California state 2010-11 budget of $86.6 billion
- Less than one percent of the initial projected cost of President Bush's Troubled Asset Relief Program, also known as the "bank bailout," which cost $700 billion. It also comprises less than one percent of the Department of Defense's proposed FY 2011 budget ($708 billion) and the initial projected cost of President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus package ($789 billion)
- 0.3 percent of the 2010 U.S. federal budget deficit ($1.3 trillion)
Within a larger context of global, non-governmental spending, the 2010 election cost can either be seen as a fortune or a pittance. Four billion dollars is:
-Just over 7 percent of the $53.5 billion net worth of Mexican telecommunications mogul and richest man in the world Carlos Slim Helu and his family
-Less than one-third of the $13.4 billion in profits that investment bank Goldman Sachs saw in 2009
-Larger than the GDPs of 55 nations worldwide, including Greenland ($2 billion), Kosovo ($3.2 billion), and Somalia ($2.7 billion)
-Nearly 12 times the cost of the most expensive film ever made, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," which reportedly cost around $334 million (2010 dollars)