$7 billion - that's how much the 2012 US election campaign will have cost after all the ballots have been cast. In 2010, UK election spending was £31million ($48million). Even if the UK was the same size as America, spending to get candidates elected in the United States would still be 30 times that of the UK.
Still not shocked? Facebook's revenue in 2011 was a mere $3.7billion, or, if you want to talk countries, $7billion is roughly the entire GDP of Zimbabwe. Yes, America will likely spend more on campaign posters, badges and attack ads in 2012 than the entire gross domestic product of Zimbabwe.
Okay, so $7billion is a lot but there still many in America that argue that if you curtail spending you are only preventing free speech - which is not exactly Bill of Rights-tastic. They also claim that in countries like the UK, elections are not as democratic because without spending on adverts people don't get to know all the facts to make an informed choice.
Hold the phone. That argument may have worked very well 200, 100 or even 50 years ago when media was paper based and the instantaneous world of the Internet was a pipe dream. In 2012, social media applications offer the chance to start a revolution in the palm or your hand. Combine one really angry Egyptian with a smartphone and it seems he can fill Tahrir Square in less than an hour. In an age when media is drowning in almost unregulated comment and content 24/7 - most of which is created for free, is the case for spending 30 times what other countries spend on elections still justified? Or given the state of the world's financial plight, is spending billions on campaigning, with the majority going towards mud-slinging negative attack ads morally credible anymore?
Of course, to the winners this money is well spent and the proponents of these murky tactics claim they are simply telling the facts, that the public have a right to know and they can decide who to vote for.
I think a country which is still the standard bearer for democracy around the world can do a little better.
But let's be realistic here. There is probably a greater chance of George W Bush being elected for a third term as president than there is of America agreeing far reaching reforms to stop this scandalous campaign spending. James Madison and the rest of the Founding Fathers were smart guys and the Constitution has served America well up to now. Bills challenging the Bill of Rights would never get agreed by Congress let alone the Supreme Court.
So if that won't work what will? Well, politicians are increasingly trying to harness the power of social media to win votes so why can we take some Arab Spring, Facebook wielding inspiration and change the entire culture of election spending from the bottom up?
To every American citizen that reads this article on Huffington Post and beyond, I just want to plant this thought. $7billion is currently being spent on nothing more than hot air. Thousand upon thousand of prime time 30 second adverts of political hate currently appear in every one of the United States. "Obamacare is socialism" or "Romney is a flip flopper" they'll all claim.
Well, I have one simple challenge to the Democrats and Republicans, either put up or shut up. Make your policies and statements a reality. You clearly have the money so no more excuses. Every voter is now officially calling your bluff.
Republicans? Want to show why your healthcare plan is so much better than Obama's? It costs about $500million to build a decent hospital and $200million to refurbish one. You could pay for seven to 10 new hospitals with the money you've raised. That's almost one for every swing state. They could be real healthcare pilots showing off your policies and be the living working examples of your political vision. Surely that would help voters really make up their minds?
Democrats? Want to win the argument on the economy and jobs? $3billion should pay for a quite a lot of new roads, bridges and railways and keep the economy moving and people in work.
And once you've completed these wonderful projects then you can use the power of your smartphone (and or possibly one of those tremendously persuasive Egyptians) and your first amendment right to free speech to tweet about it to your heart's content. Who knows, you might empower a million people to meet you on the Mall in Washington DC proclaiming your success. My point is, empowering people can and should happen for free. Spending $7billion on nothing is the coward's way out.
Of course, the chances of creating this election utopia in the United States are less than zero, but still, I'll leave you with one last thought. I know for a fact that the people of Zimbabwe would love a few new hospitals or an investment in jobs right now. So let that lay heavy on the conscience of every American candidate and campaigner who gleefully hands fistfuls of cash over to a TV executive for the next 30 second advert to smear, slight or slur their opponent as we head towards November's elections.
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