What price, democracy?

Here’s a question. If you have to spend upwards of $100 million of your personal finances in order to win an election, does that make you a good candidate? New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, evidently thinks so. As The Sunday Times reported:

[He] emerged yesterday as the biggest personal spender in the history of US election campaigns.

The media billionaire has so far spent $85m (£52m) of his own money on his bid for re-election on November 3 and is expected to burn through at least another $30m.

His opponent, William Thompson, has deemed this ‘obscene’. Political posturing on the part of the Democrat of course, but he has only spent $6 million. Stingy b*******.

Really though, spending any amount of million seems a bit obscene, especially during an economic crisis. It may sound preachy and sanctimonious to make the point ‘think what you could do for society with all that money’, but it is kinda true.

America has always been a global leader in extravagant campaign spending, even despite reforms in 2002. Despite his involvement in these reforms, in August 2008 alone the McCain campaign spent $41 million, $23 million on advertising. That is a mindboggling figure, made all the worse for the fact that he didn’t even win.

Obama, hailed as the internet campaigner and revolutionary grass-roots candidate, spent $53 million that month, with $32 million on advertising. Grass-roots indeed.

Realistically, running for an election costs money – even on the most micro level of student politics, for example, you’re going to have photocopying expenses. But in the internet age, with Twitter, blogging, Facebook and so on, it has never been easier to get the message across to people. So it is ludicrous that Bloomberg (and he’s not alone, just the worst offender) is spending more than ever.

In Britain we’ve been up in arms over MP’s expenses for the better part of a year now. With an election forthcoming, isn’t it time we start a discussion on this?

Because it seems to me that the price of democracy has been set a little too high.


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