The 2016 presidential election cycle is already underway. Although Ted Cruz has been the only candidate to officially enter the race, there are several other politicians expected to run for the nation’s highest executive office. It’s too early to predict who will win the election, but one thing will determine the success of candidates more than anything else: how much money they can raise and spend. That's slowly becoming the single-most important factor for campaigns, as well as politics in general.
It’s no secret that it’s expensive to run a presidential campaign. In recent years, however, the influence of money in politics has increased at an unprecedented, exponential rate. The obvious scapegoat is the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That ruling paved the way for massive corporate spending, essentially confirming to the American public that their laws and representatives are controlled by big money. It may have had more of a catastrophic consequence than anyone expected. The following infographic shows just how important money has become for presidential campaigns over the past 100 years:
As the infographic (via Represent.Us) shows, the cost of presidential elections has been steadily rising since 1908. The dates on the graphic aren’t exactly clear, but there’s a huge spike slightly before the 2012 election. That also happens to be the time the Citizens United ruling was issued by the Supreme Court. It’s obvious that that decision has had an enormous impact on political spending.
The line on the infographic fails to reach the $2 billion mark, but that’s the actual estimated cost of 2012’s presidential election. According to The Economist, overall campaign spending (including the congressional races) topped $7 billion that same year. For the 2016 election, a Super PAC has already raised more than $4 million for Hillary Clinton. She’s yet to formally announce her decision to run.
There are factors aside from Citizens United that have led to an increase in campaign spending. The United States has a large population, and reaching prospective voters is a massive undertaking. The political climate — as well as the country in general — is also entirely different than it was in 1908 (except that the Chicago Cubs have still not won another World Series).
The relationship between money and politics has obviously gotten out of control, and the saddest part of it all is that there may be no feasible or realistic way to reverse the trend anytime soon. Obama mentioned that mandatory voting would “counteract money [in politics] more than anything,” but he failed to mention that candidates would still need to spend the same amount on campaigns. With the Citizens United ruling taking place so recently, it’s likely that future versions of the above infographic will only show the line on the graph reaching even higher at an even faster rate.