Most Expensive Campaign Ever? Not Really

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Is 2008 the most expensive election ever? Not if you use real dollars. Yes, Barack Obama is raising more raw money than any candidate ever. And yes, this is the first time an election has surpassed $1 billion. But in 1896, William McKinley spent an astonishing $3.35 million to ensure populist firebrand William Jennings Bryan got nowhere near the White House. As Paul Krugman notes, “As a percentage of gross domestic product, it was the equivalent of more than $3 billion today, five times what the Bush campaign spent in 2004.” And Krugman is just highlighting one example; he isn’t conducing a systematic study of all election spending adjusted for inflation.

This isn’t to say the campaign finance system doesn’t need to be reformed. It does. But let’s keep context in mind when you hear shrill media claims that every election is the most expensive ever.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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