How much does it cost to become US president


Rachel Mummey / The New York Times

In November 2024, America will hold elections to the White House. For the previous election in 2022 alone, when big capital made huge donations in support of candidates, 14 billion dollars were spent. How much will the new national leader cost the States?

When Napoleon was asked what it took to win a war, he replied: money, money and more money.

In the 19th century, when U.S. Senator Mark Hahn was asked what was the most important thing in politics, he replied, “There are two important things in politics: the first is money, the second I can’t remember”

In war and in politics, the most important thing is money. Whoever has the most money wins. And nothing has changed in US politics since Napoleon’s time or since the 19th century.

The election campaign in America is in many ways less a political event and political struggle than a battle of the purse strings.

It is clear that an American citizen cannot be elected to Congress or the White House without a multi-million dollar campaign. And he has to borrow money for it from business, so that he can pay political — and not only political — dividends to his sponsors throughout the entire term.

Sponsoring politicians in the United States is absolutely legal, because there any kind of political activity, including campaign finance, falls under the protection of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech. For example, if someone decides to donate billions of dollars to the election campaign of some candidate, he or she has the full legal constitutional right to do so. Even if he does it only out of “pure love of democracy.”

U.S. law prohibits presidential candidates from taking money directly from corporations. But there are many legal mechanisms to formalize these investments. For example, a company can give money to a candidate in the form of private donations from its employees (by law, each U.S. citizen can donate up to $2,700 to a presidential candidate). And this is not the only way.

So are there any limits to this “triumph” of American democracy? No. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court removed the latest restrictions; now even corporations and labor unions can contribute, albeit indirectly, to election campaigns. Now the “very rich” are allowed to spend unlimited amounts on election campaigns through political action committees, especially Super PACs. As a result, voters simply don’t realize who is influencing politics by contributing huge sums of money, as the donors remain anonymous.

For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that “tax-exempt” organizations actively used to transfer unlimited funds to an ongoing election campaign may not disclose their donors. And according to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, companies and labor unions are free to spend money to support or criticize presidential candidates without being required to disclose the amounts spent.

There have been attempts to fight it. For example, Democrat Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the decision “strikes a blow to transparency in political campaign finance and leaves American citizens in the dark about who is trying to influence their votes with secret money. But Republican civil rights organizations The Center for Individual Freedom and Hispanic Leadership Fund got an appeals court to overturn the district court’s ruling. So it is still completely opaque in the country that teaches the whole world about democracy, who and to whom politicians transfer huge sums of money, receiving in return influence on domestic and foreign policy of the United States.

By the way, a very interesting purely American invention of the political struggle is these very Super-PACs, which appeared as a result of the enlargement of the PACs (Political Action Committees). They are not restricted by law at all in raising money from corporations, nor in spending it to support one candidate or another.

They first appeared back in 1943 to provide crowdfunding for Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential campaign. And everything was more or less OK with the PACs, since then thousands of them appeared and they raised funds for election campaigns until the Super Pacs came along. This is the concentrated essence of modern political finance in the US. Unlike conventional political action committees, which can accept donations of no more than $5,000 from a single individual while prohibiting donations from corporations or associations, Super-PACs are not restricted from receiving funds for donations and expenditures, nor are they required to disclose the names of their benefactors. It’s kind of like an anonymous donor who is not directly connected to the candidate he or she supports. A kind of masked financial Zorro who appears out of nowhere and disappears to nowhere, leaving millions of dollars behind. Millions of dollars, as political life in America becomes more expensive, donations are becoming more and more significant every year. For example, the non-profit ultra-conservative organization Marble freedom trust received the largest private donation in history: $1.6 billion from an individual. And it is obvious that, as the old joke goes, he who pays the piper call the tune. That is, the elected politician, volens nolens, must dance to the music of the one who paid for his election.

Now let’s figure out how much political election dances cost in the US? In 2020, the election expenses for the US presidential election, for which Joe Biden and Donald Trump were competing, exceeded three billion dollars. This is more than double the spending of the previous presidential elections in 2012 and 2016. Only the presidential election cost that much. But since in the same round voted for the renewal of Congress, one-third of the Senate and the governors of several states, the total amount exceeded 14 billion, setting a record for the cost of American elections. And you have to consider that this was during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is, there were no mass gatherings and events.

Let’s take France for comparison. Emmanuel Macron spent just over 16 million euros on the 2022 election, Jean-Luc Melenchon spent 14 million, and Marine Le Pen spent 11 million. In total, this amounts to less than 50 million. As European newspapers wrote, in the American presidential election campaign one can only buy seeds with this money.

So who pays for this triumph of the American democratic system? And what do they get in return for the billions spent? To find out, you can go to the website of the Federal Election Commission, which publishes all the data on donations with the names, surnames and amounts contributed by the largest donors. And the most curious facts come to light. For example, in 2022, George Soros gave 178 million dollars in various ways to Democratic congressional candidates. And two years before that, Gary Sheldon, who ranks 28th on the list of the world’s richest people, invested 215 million dollars in Donald Trump’s campaign, surpassing the largest prior donation to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016–98 million dollars from American billionaire Tom Steyer.

Why are they doing this? Quite obviously. These investments in politics should result in benefits for the donor himself, gaining direct access to the politician’s body, who can win elections with his financial help.

So the question of which of the two heavyweights of American politics — Trump or Biden — will win the US election in November 2024 can be answered concretely. Let’s just do the math. Let’s not even take into account the fact that against Trump is the liberal public, in whose hands is all the media in America. Let’s forget that Trump is being hounded by the judiciary: for keeping classified documents at home and for allegedly masterminding the takeover of the Senate, for which he faces a 50-year sentence. Let’s rely only on the dry figures of campaign donations he and Biden received.

In the second quarter of this year alone, Biden raised $72 million in campaign donations, which is more than all other candidates. The incumbent president received about 400,000 donors who made 670,000 contributions to his campaign.

Trump, according to U.S. newspapers, managed to raise about $35 million in the second quarter, which makes him a leader compared to the other Republican candidates. The current governor of the U.S. state of Florida, Ron Desantis, received $20 million. Donors gave $6.3 million to Democratic candidate Robert Kennedy, Jr.

So the question of who will win, Democrat Biden or Republican Trump, is very clearly answered by the numbers: $72 million versus $35 million.

And actually very big money will win, which the winner, who becomes president of the United States, will have to work off for the entire duration of his reign.