Can you guess how much money has been spent on this election?
Hint — it’s more than it cost to make the most recent season of Game of Thrones.
As of August 19, 2016, $934,480,603 has been raised on behalf of all the candidates who have at some point tried to get your vote in this endless campaign. We had a hard time wrapping our heads around that number — it’s cartoonishly large — so we built this handy Spend This calculator to break it down into numbers that made more sense. Because it’s a whole lot easier to consider how much money $934,480,603 really is when you know that it could easily get you Beyoncé tickets for every single person in Mongolia and Barbados.
We don’t think that it should cost that much to run a successful campaign. And honestly, thinking about our potential next president being beholden to huge wealthy donors, special interest groups, or shady Super PACs (who even are they??) makes us really uncomfortable. So if you’re like us, and you think that maybe the world might be better if we spent even a fraction of that money on things like improving public schools or feeding hungry kids or paying our respects to Harambe (RIP sweet angel), then here are four steps you can take to start getting this obscene amount of money out of politics and back into the stuff that matters.
Each election cycle, millions upon millions of dollars from corporations and special interest groups are funneled into our campaigns at every level. Money dominates politics in major ways — politicians who want to stay in office for more than one term need donations from corporations, special interest groups, and billionaires simply to survive.
The campaign finance system in this country is so broken that more than 90% of Americans believe it needs to be reformed. That’s a lot of agreement in a place that usually can’t agree on anything, so let’s rewind a bit and consider how we got here in the first place. The amount of spending in the 2016 campaign now far outstrips the relatively tame amount of spending that happened in the 1970s. And the spending isn’t just high — it also usually translates to election success. Outside of the presidential election, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, more often than not, the higher-spending candidate wins the seat.
The push for campaign finance reform is about preventing corruption at the earliest stage possible. Get in the know on efforts to reform campaign finance with our partners at the ACLU.
We can trace a huge bump in campaign spending back to a major Supreme Court case in 2010. Citizens United, which passed with a 5–4 majority, decided that there is no limit to the amount of outside spending allowed in elections. Citizens United also enabled the system to treat corporations as people, allowing them to spend directly on campaigns. Meaning, yes, both you and Wal-Mart are entitled to donate to the political candidate of your choosing, despite the superstore having a major leg up on you when it comes to funds.
Despite the wide gulf standing in between the Republican and the Democratic parties on a wide array of subjects, during the dueling national conventions in late July, both candidates expressed a desire to repeal the controversial 2010 ruling. Secretary Clinton (and Senator Sanders when he was in the race) has gone so far to say that she’d nominate judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn the ruling and has expressed intent to annex a constitutional amendment that would give Congress more power to limit political spending.
Is that really possible? Technically, yes. But amending the constitution is a long arduous process requiring a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and ratification by 38 states. It’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
In the meantime, it can’t hurt to find out about other efforts to fight corruption in a post-Citizens United world. Let your elected representatives know how you feel. Not sure who to contact first? Enter your zip code here and get to sending out those emails.
Now is the time to find out who exactly helped fund your senator’s reelection bid. How much money came from famous billionaires like the Koch brothers and George Soros? Did notoriously wealthy groups like the NRA give to your congressperson to get them elected? And did it have any correlation with your representative’s voting history?
Check out Open Secrets, a non-partisan organization singularly dedicated to being super open and incredibly transparent about where all the money in politics is coming from. You can enter your zip code and find out who are the top contributors donating to your rep, and just how much money they’re giving. Go ahead and do it now, I’ll wait.
You’re back? Now that you’re armed with the cold hard facts, ask yourself if you’re comfortable with that information. If seeing all that money tied up in special interests makes you a little queasy, then let me introduce you to your next step.
Let your voice be heard. No one will know how much you care about getting money out of politics until you tell them. Sign this petition to show you’re committed to preventing our public discourse from being owned by the select few who can afford to have their interests represented in Congress.
Our democracy is only as strong as its ability to accurately reflect citizens’ desires. If the voices of the majority of the population can be drowned out by mega-wealthy donors and companies, then we’ve got to reassess the way we do business until each and every American’s vote is worth the same. Make sure you understand the issue, and then make some noise about it. Dream of living in a world where instead of spending outrageous money on elections, every American has access to clean water coming out of their pipes, schools that prepare all kids regardless of race or zip code for 21st century jobs and the occasional Beyoncé ticket too. Live a little.
Most Americans agree (regardless of party) that they’d rather have politicians be beholden to the constituents who elected them. It’s our job to make sure the will of the American people becomes reality.