The money spent on elections in the United States dwarfs that of the UK, even when taking into account the relative size of their populations.
In total, £37 Million was spent on the UK General Election 2015. Of this, the biggest cost was materials sent to voters, costing £15 Million in total. Of this overall total, the following amounts were spent by the different parties:
Conservatives – £15.6 Million
Labour – £12.1 Million
Lib Dems – £3.5 Million
UKIP – £2.9 Million
Other Parties – Less that £1.5 Million
This spending overall equates to around 57p per UK citizen.
In contrast, in 2016, one Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, spent $25.2 Million dollars in winning a single Senate seat. His Democratic opponent spent $18.5 Million Dollars. This bought the total spend for this one seat was $59 Million Dollars, more than the entire UK Election.
In total, in the 2016 US Election the amount spent by the two main parties was $6.5 Billion Dollars. This is more than the GDP of 42 countries, including Montenegro and Fiji.
So why is election spending in the US so different when compared to the UK? There are a number of important reasons:
In the UK there are two types of election spending:
Party Campaign Spending – This is money spent by a party nationally to promote its policies. This might include leaflets, posters or newspaper adverts.
Candidate Spending – This is money spent on a particular seat and in support of a particular candidate.
In the UK laws regarding Election spending we far stricter than in the United States. A political party can spend £30,000 on each seat it contests in the General Election. In addition to his, the maximum a candidate can spend is £100,000. There are also even stricter limits on spending in the last 25 days before polling day.
In the USA, there are limits, but there are also loopholes. There is no limit on the amount that a candidate can spend. However, there are limits on the amount a candidate can receive in donations. Among others, this currently stands at:
$2,700 from an indvidual
$2,000 from a Candidate Committee
$5,000 from a PAC
However, alongside this there are also Super PACS. These can raise unlimited sums of money from unions, corporate bodies and other politically interested parties.
In additon, there are 527 groups. These are similar to PACS, but get around finance issues by not giving money directly to a candidate. For example, a 527 Group might pay for a national TV advert that criticises a candidate, but does not mention their opponents a single time. A very famous example of this is the advert below which was produced by a veterans group called Swiftboat Veterans (that supported George W. Bush) that attacked Demcocratic Candidate, John Kerry:
There have been a number of legal attempts to place clearer limits on the way money is used in US political campaigns:
Citizens United vs FEC – In this judgement the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that laws that stopped unions from using their general funds for polticial campaigns violated their First Amendment rights.
After the Supreme Court had decided this case President Obama took the extraordinarily unusual step of criticising the a Supreme about Justices as they stood in front of him at the 2010 State of the Union Address.
McCutcheon v. FEC – In this judgement the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a law that attempted to impose a limit that an individual could give to a political party over two years was unconstitutonal as it violated the First Amendment.
2. Separation of Powers vs Fusion of Powers
In the United States there is a separation of powers and personnel. The different branches of Government are elected seperately. However, in the United Kingdom they are elected together. In addition, one the chambers of the UK Parliament is unelected, significantly reducing the costs of elections.
3. Election Calender
In the United Kingdom an election campaign lasts at most 60 days. For example, when a General Election was called on 17th April 2017 the vote took place on 8th June 2017, not much more than a month later.
Compared to this, the American election begins almost as soon as the last one ends. Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years, whilst the Invisible Primaries begin around 18 months before the election. Donald Trump has taken it even further, announcing that he is running again in 2020 on in February 2018.
These are just some of the reasons for the differences in UK and US Election spending, there are many more!