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How Much Does It Cost To Run For President?


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There’s a big difference between running for President and actually winning the election. So how much money will you need to have a decent shot at being Commander-in-Chief?

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Registering as a Presidential candidate isn’t actually that expensive. First, you need to fill out – surprise – a government form. It’s called the Statement of Candidacy, or FEC Form 2, and you’re required to submit this within 15 days of becoming a candidate.

So when does an average Jane or Joe become a candidate? According to the Feds, you’re automatically a candidate once your team has either received 5,000 dollars in contributions, or racked up 5,000 in campaign expenses.

But remember, there’s a big difference between running for President and actually winning. To campaign successfully you’ll need much more than 5,000 bucks.

Your next step will be getting on state ballots. Each state may have different rules outlining how you can do this. Unless you’re already established in the public eye, you’ll need petitions.

For example, in 2012, Democratic candidates needed either 1% or 500 signatures from Democrats in each of California’s districts. There were over 50 districts! This means you’ll need a volunteer campaign, along with advertising and, probably, a paid staff. While it’s possible to be a write-in candidate, it’s not probable that you’d be able to garner any significant numbers that way.

Caucus states like Iowa just require enough people to show up and cast a ballot for you. But there are hundreds of caucuses in Iowa alone. You’ll need a strategy to reach these voters, which, again, means you’ll need a staff. You’ll also need money for advertising, travel, and more. The cost of pizza for volunteers alone could run into the tens of thousands of dollars over time.

By this point, the campaign has already become massively expensive. Luckily, you’ve got contributors. Virtually no viable candidate is going to be self-funded. Instead, the average would-be President receives contributions from individuals, parties, corporations, political action committees and so on. Uncle Sam has different limits on how much money these entities can contribute during the primary and general elections.

While every campaign is different, there are some definite trends. For instance, each recent campaign seems to be more expensive than the last. According to the FEC, President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign raised 683.5 million dollars. Contributions from the Democratic party and other outside groups raised the total to around 1.1 billion dollars. When we combine all of the parties, the 2012 election was estimated to cost 2.6 billion dollars.

Pundits, fundraisers and other policy wonks are predicting the 2016 campaign may top these numbers, with the Clinton campaign alone rumored to possibly reach 1.5 to 2 billion dollars. These numbers have led speculators like the Economist to predict that the 2016 election may eventually ring in at an unprecedented 5 billion dollars.

Does this mean you have to be a multi-millionaire to become Commander-in-Chief? No. But it does mean you’ll need millions of someone’s dollars to ensure your voice is heard amid the din of all the other candidates vying for the public’s attention.

In 2004 George W. Bush spent 367 million for reelection, while the John Kerry campaign spent 328.

In 2008 election, the first Obama campaign spent 730 million, with the McCain side spending 333.

As we saw earlier, the 2012 Obama reelection pushed costs to 683 million, compared to Mitt Romney's campaign’s 433 million.

Notice a pattern? In recent elections it seems the folks who spent the most ended up in the White House. If this trend continues, and you want to be president in 2016 or later, well… either start saving or start writing to your supporters. You’ll need all the help you can get.


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