According to the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute, in 1986, the average cost of winning a seat in the US House of Representatives was $360,000. In the 2012 elections, the average cost was $1.6m – an increase of 344%. The average cost to win a seat in the Senate cost $6.4m in 1986 but that rose to $10.4m in 2012 – an increase of 62%.
As there are 435 seats in the House, the cost to elect the entire 2012 House of Representatives was $696m. And as there are 100 Senators, the cost to elect the 2012 Senate was $1.04 billion. This is only the money spent by the people winning. If you assume that the losers spent similar amounts of money, then the money spent on the 2012 House and Senate elections was approximately double those figures or $3.4 billion.
BUT… those figures do not include the funds being spent by outside groups such as Political Action Committees (PACs). In 1986 outside groups spent less than $10m on ALL House and Senate races but with the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court which removed limits on political spending, outside groups spent $457m influencing the 2012 election.
Therefore the total money spent on the 2012 House and Senate elections was close to $4 billion.
In the Presidential race Barak Obama spent just over $1 billion to get elected. Mitt Romney spent approximately the same amount but lost. Their PACs each spent approximately $1 billion mostly attacking the other candidate. Therefore the money spent on electing a US president was approximately $4 billion.
So, in total, the cost to elect the President, the Senate and the House in the 2012 election was approximately $8 billion. (It is expected to be higher in 2016)
The government of the United Kingdom (which includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is made up (primarily) of the House of Commons – in which there are 650 elected members and the Prime Minister is among these members. The total spend of all candidates in all parties in the 2010 UK election was just under $100m – and more than 50% of this was funded by the public. There are strict limits on the length of a campaign and the amount of money a candidate is permitted to spend. The theory is that candidates should be elected based on their qualifications and policy proposals and should not be beholden to major political donors. As a result, the average candidate spends less $50,000. – and most of this is secured from the public funding to which each eligible candidate is entitled. In other words, in the UK (at least for now), BIG money cannot and does not win elections.
In the USA, because there is no “public funding”, each candidate must raise the money they need to mount a competitive campaign. It is generally believed that the candidate with the most money has a better chance of winning. As a result, candidates spend much of their time fundraising. They do this before they are elected and also while in office because their re-election campaign typically starts the week after they are sworn into office.
Bottom line, here’s the difference:
US election campaigns last 2-3 years, have no spending limits and cost approximately $8 billion dollars every four years. UK election campaigns last 5-6 weeks, have strict spending limits and cost less than $100m every five years.
In the US, we spend 80 times more to elect a government than they do in the UK. Are we getting an 80-times better result? I don’t think so.