Aditya Chakrabortty was kind enough to draw my attention to a piece in the Washington Post about George W Bush’s money situation.
The numbers are mind-blowingly scary, it’s true. George Bush has already spent $64 million, not counting the millions of dollars his supporters have spent running ads they paid for themselves. He’s getting another $67 million in federal funds, still has $6 million in the bank, and wants to raise another $20 million before the Republican convention in the summer, and will probably continue with fund-raising to some degree all the way to November. Let’s be conservative and say $150 million total.
Now I know that children, felons, green card holders, etc. can’t vote, and turnout is dreadfully low in presidential elections, but let’s put all that to one side and say that the population of the USA is 270 million. We’re still talking more than 55 cents per person. Remember, this is just one candidate. Add in the Gore campaign, plus what McCain and Bradley spent, plus all the House and Senate campaigns (especially the New York Senate campaign, which is going to break all manner of fund-raising records) and you’re talking insane total expenditure.
(I know you’re all getting sick of these comparisons, but bear with me one more time: Ken Livingstone wants less than half a million quid for his campaign, to reach 8 million Londoners; in US money, that’s still less than a dime per person.)
What I can never understand is why so many people give so much money to these campaigns. I mean, I’m a Gore fan, but I can’t imagine giving him money; and the prospect of anybody at all dipping into their pockets to donate to the Hillary campaign just boggles my mind. (I’d vote Rudy if I had the vote in New York: it would get him out of City Hall a year early, give Mark Green the incumbency, which he needs to get the mayoralty, and elect a Senator who would certainly stand up for New York City even as he could do very little harm on a national scale. Senators have much less power than the mayor of New York, and in any case Rudy is very liberal on abortion, gays, immigration, etc.)
But I’m also a fan of the First Amendment, and I believe that no campaign-finance law will really be able to work. Just as those Texans spent their own money on their own ads and therefore weren’t official donors to the Bush campaign, people will always have to be allowed to do their own thing.
What worries me is that US politics will eventually spill over into the UK. We’ve already gone presidential, first with Blair and now with Ken — politics of personality and all that; now we’re moving on to the “give me money!” stage. It’s only a matter of time until politicians start buying ads on television.