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So what can $6 billion buy you?

David Gura Nov 5, 2012
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Campaign Trail

So what can $6 billion buy you?

David Gura Nov 5, 2012
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 It is the last day of the 2012 campaign, and it may come as no surprise that all that politicking — more than a year’s worth — is expensive.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit organization that tracks money in U.S. politics, estimates spending in this campaign will reach $6 billion.

To you and me, $6 billion is big bucks, but to Uncle Sam, it’s chump change. “In reality, that’s a small fraction of one percent of what the economy does,” Kevin Jacques, the Boynton D. Murch Chair in Finance at Baldwin Wallace University, says.

$6 billion is less than 1/20th of one percent of our GDP. “We’ve got a $16 trillion economy,” says Mark Vittner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo. That is “trillion,” with a “t.” So, maybe some context will help.

Phillip Swagell, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, notes Americans spend $6 billion on lots of things. “Americans spend about $6 billion every year renting videos,” he says. For $6 billion, you could buy 60 Boeing 737 airplanes. $6 billion is how much Google reportedly would have paid for Groupon, back in 2010.

“Someone once told me that we spend more on Halloween every year than we do on politics,” says Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics.

That is true. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans spent $8 billion on candy and costumes this year.

Anthony Corrado is a campaign finance expert at Colby College, and he says campaign spending does have economic benefits, but they are…limited.

“While we’ve had a substantial amount of spending, most of it has been very concentrated, affecting very few voters,” Corrado says. Among them, the owners of TV stations in places like Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, who have sold millions of dollars worth of campaign ads.

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