American Political Campaigns are Really Expensive

| Tue Feb. 21, 2012 12:23 PM PST

After reading half a dozen blog posts this morning about mega-billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his support of Newt Gingrich, I got curious about campaign financing laws in other countries, something I know nothing about. In Britain, it turns out, paid political advertising on television is banned (though the parties get a bit of free TV time during election seasons), party expenditures are limited to about $50 million during the year prior to an election, and individual candidates are limited to expenditures of about $10,000 each. But what about third parties, the bane of American campaigns these days? Here you go:

Individuals or groups that aim to promote or disparage electoral candidates are also subject to controls and restrictions on the campaigning that they can do. They may incur expenditure [] by holding public meetings or organizing public displays, or by issuing advertisements, circulars, or publications. They can spend up to £500 (approximately US$700) at a general election “presenting to the electors the candidate or his views, or the extent or nature of his backing or disparaging of another candidate.”

$700! Take that, plutocrats!

Roughly speaking, these limits mean that total campaign expenditures for a general election in Britain amount to $100-150 million or so (it depends a bit on exactly what you count). We have about 5x their population, so this would translate to something in the neighborhood of $500-750 million if the same rules applied here. That compares to actual expenditures of about $5 billion on federal offices during the 2008 campaign.

I don't have any real point to make here. This is just a pure information dump. Anyone with serious knowledge of British (or other) campaign law should feel free to chime in if I've gotten anything seriously wrong here.

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