I was reading that billions of dollars are raised/spent during US political campaigns (president, senate, etc). I'm no expert in how this all works, but it seems to me that this money is used solely for marketing a particular individual/party to be elected and has no direct benefit on the people.

If this money were instead used towards activities or programs that the government normally funds with taxes, would that have any substantial impact?

  • solely for marketing a particular individual/party to be elected While there may be many different opinions about how campaigns should be conducted and funded, It is difficult to imagine a working democracy if political candidates and parties cannot inform the voters of their ideologies and intentions.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 29, 2016 at 23:46
  • 2
    The question is purely hypothetical. Assume voters are omniscient and therefore do not to be informed through campaigning.
    – user9916
    Oct 30, 2016 at 0:16
  • @SJuan76 - 1 big website with voter info material: let's be generous and call it $1M. A law that requires telecom/internet providers to inform voters about that website: $1M. Cost of postal mailings to remaining non-internetted people: $31M. Total: $33M. 1/40th of 2016 campaign spending.
    – user4012
    Oct 30, 2016 at 13:05
  • @user4012 As I said there may be many different opinions about how campaigns should be conducted and funded. That said, I wonder why candidates waste so much in public acts and ads if the solution is just "1 big website", maybe their assessors are bad assessors and they do not do market research to find the most efficient way to convince people to vote for them, or maybe the answer is just not that simple.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 30, 2016 at 16:53
  • @SJuan76 - you said " It is difficult to imagine". I took that as a challenge :)
    – user4012
    Oct 30, 2016 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


Campaign money:

  • 2016 Presidential campaigns netted $1,300M (source: FEC). ($325M/year averaged over 4 years as per @Philipp's comment)
  • House: $967M ($484M/year averaged )
  • Senate: $507M ($253M/year averaged)
  • Total: $2,774M=$2.7B ($1062M=$1T/year averaged)

In reality, spending is slightly less since not 100% of funds is disbursed.

Funding with taxes:

In fiscal year 2015, the federal budget is $3.8 trillion (source, with data they used sourced from OMB).

Roughly 2/3 to 3/4th of that was on medicare, social security, unemployment, labor, education, VA and such (the pie chart under "All Federal Spending" section is best for one-glance view). I'm roughly eyeballing that at ~2.7T-$3T.

As such, if 100% of campaign money raised was spent as part of the federal budget, it would cover less that 0.1% (1/1000th) of said budget, even if we only cover "important spending on the people" and not entire budget.

If you adjust for @Philipp's comment that campaign spending is not annual, we

Annulaized results

As per @Philipp's comment, federal spending is an annual figure, whereas campaign spending for 2016 should really be amortized over 4 (pres) and 2 (congress) years. As such, the discrepancy and impact is even more than my original answer stated - campaign spending is 1/3600th of full budget (0.03%) and rises to a whole 0.037% if you only count budget pieces spent on "the people" directly.


Impact is insubstantial in the extreme.

  • 1
    You might also want to account for the fact that you are comparing the annual budget with budgets for elections which only happen every two or four years.
    – Philipp
    Oct 30, 2016 at 1:10
  • @Philipp - that'd make it even more unfair of a comparison :) Good point though, thx
    – user4012
    Oct 30, 2016 at 1:59
  • This is ignoring "Super PAC" spending altogether, so actual spending is somewhat higher. Also, this is a relatively low-spending election, as Trump is not keeping pace with Romney's fundraising. In 2012, Obama and Romney each topped a billion dollars, but this source shows them only at $1.3 billion combined. Obama raising a billion was reported frequently at the time.
    – Brythan
    Oct 30, 2016 at 4:34
  • @Brythan - PAC spending was included in FCC figures, "Super PAC" wasn't (that I could find).
    – user4012
    Oct 30, 2016 at 13:05

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