What Could be Done with all of that Campaign Money

Or Why This Year’s Campaign Fund Raising Calls the Lie to the Myth of a Broke America

I like to use what I call the “Hire-a-Teacher” (HaT) scale when looking at obscene money expenditures. The HaT scale assumes that a teacher will be hired for about $40,000 a year in pay and benefits. Perhaps the actual amount is a little more in some places, less in others, but for now I think $40,000 is a realistic sum.

So when I see folks, like Sheldon Adelson, who is willing to spend $100 million to defeat President Obama, I think, ‘Wow! That’s a HaT score of 2,500.’ In other words, $100 million dollars could be spent to hire 2,500 teachers, or it could be used to express personal animus toward one man. I think this is an effective way to analyze the values of those spending gobs of money. It is also a great way to assess the waste in a particular system. After all, maybe there are some folks out there who would suggest that there are already just too many darn teachers in the country, but I’d like to think they are a small minority—they are also wrong.

This will be most expensive election in the history of the our nation. What will be the result of this massive movement of money? Will we have a better quality governing system? Unlikely. Will we have any more politicians? No. After the ads are discontinued and the signs, buttons, pamphlets and other paraphernalia are delegated to the scrap heap will there be any enduring contributions to our culture? Our society? Science? Or any other mechanism for the progress of man? Not at all. If anything, the progress of man will most likely take two backwards steps as a result of this election. Some media companies will prosper like crazy, but overall, the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars spent this election cycle will be wasted.

However, what could be gained if that money was spent to hire teachers? Or nurses? Or to improve roads? Or…(insert your socially redeemable project or profession here)__________.

So far, as of June 21, 2012, over $250 million has been spent on just the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. This is not including Congressional elections, the Republican Primary, third parties, etc. With the money spent so far, over six thousand teachers could have been hired. Or over six thousand young people could have had their four year college tuitions paid for in part or even in full.

Yet the reason we are given for not hiring teachers, or paying for college, or hiring nurses, police officers, firefighters, EMS, construction workers or making investments in clean energy or science or the arts is that the United States simply cannot afford these luxuries. Really? Do you think that massive amounts of money shelled out by big donors to both parties are an indication that there’s just not enough money among the poor, unfortunate wealthy in the US?

Do you think that the large donors are ‘giving until it hurts’ in order to get rid of the rabidly anti-business Barack Obama? Or are the likes of Adelson and the Koch brothers or, for that matter, George Soros to include a conservative bugaboo, making investments in which they intend to be rewarded with access and monetary/regulatory returns?

To put this in perspective, according to Forbes Magazine, Sheldon Adelson is worth $24.9 billion. He has claimed that he is willing to spend $100 million to defeat President Obama. That means he’s willing to spend .4% of his net worth in this endeavor. According to CNN/Money, an average family’s net worth is $77,300. Adelson is willing to contribute the equivalent of about $300 to this year’s election.¹ How do you think Adelson would feel about a .4% tax on net worth to help hire some teachers?

This reality calls the lie that there’s just not enough money in the US for major investments. It also calls the lie to another elitist myth. The lie that it’s just too risky, with the threat of higher taxes and all, for the wealthy to hire people. If only the poor unfortunate wealthy had less of a tax burden, they might, just might, deign to hire a few people—but oh, the risk, the risk.

The risk that they are trying to avoid is a return to the pre-Bush tax brackets for men like Sheldon Adelson—about a three percent increase. According to the Huffington Post, Adelson makes $7 billion a year. Returning to the pre-Bush tax brackets would cost Adelson $210 million. Yeah, that’s not chump change. That would leave poor Sheldon with a paltry $6.79 billion a year. How could he be expected to live on that? But here’s the point. He’s already declared that he’s will to spend half of the potential tax increase on one man…with no real guarantees that that man would get elected.

For the wealthy, politics has always been an extension of business and investment. After Citizen’s United, it’s now big business with big stakes. If the average family spends $300 on a candidate, they do so because they believe that that person represents what they themselves stand for. They don’t expect access. They don’t expect their representative to even take their calls. They just hope that their contribution might make a little bit of a difference for someone whom they believe in. When the Sheldon Adelsons of the world throw millions of dollars into an election, they could give a damn about politics and good government. They are making an investment. They are buying access. They are letting even their opponents know that it is best to not piss them off because there’s virtually no limit to the amount of money that they can spend.

Just don’t expect them to spend that money on anything that does the country any good.



¹The comparison to net worth is a flawed measure, as most of the average family’s net worth is tied up in their houses and not available for contribution. The same could be said, to a lesser extent, of billionaires.


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