Why spend half a billion dollars on elections instead of solutions?

Column by Sean Rose

With the dust still settling from this week’s Super Tuesday, I thought it might be appropriate to take another look at the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

Not the candidates themselves, mind you. Not their Hollywood smiles and defined jaw lines, their made-for-TV looks with hearts of gold. And not their ideals, their values or how they stand on the issues, either. I want to look at what really qualifies a candidate for a run at the presidency: money.

It could be said that there’s no stronger measure of authority in this country than the almighty dollar. It’s certainly true in politics. You ever seen a poor man running for president? Me neither. At least not one who makes it very far.

And when you look at the fundraising totals from the campaign, it’s obvious why.

In total, about $594.9 million has been raised by presidential campaigns this elections cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The economic recession gets a lot of attention from the media right now. Maybe inflation has something to do with the number of dollars raised. And maybe not.

President George Bush had more than $192 million to his name during his first run in 2000 and more than $367 million in 2004. His challengers fared almost as well: Al Gore raised over $132 million and John Kerry raised more than $300 million, according to the commission.

I don’t have a plan to yank the American economic engine out of the toilet or advice for my niece on avoiding being buried in debt when she is in college 18 years from now. And as an editor and news reporter at the Kernel, I am not given the luxury of voicing my personal opinion on current issues in my column.

But I do know a few places where a half-billion dollar pool of money could do much more positive work outside the pockets of politicians and their campaign managers.

The $594 million in presidential campaigns would considerably close the gap in the $886 million shortfall in Kentucky’s budget over the next two years that the Kernel reported Jan. 30.

Speaking of Kentucky, the campaigns’ funds are enough to give 78,835 non-Kentucky residents a full ride at UK.

Some politicians have argued that tax refunds could spur the economy. With the median household income being just over $44,000 dollars according to a 2004 estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, the presidential candidates could afford to sprinkle a little financial gift to millions of Americans — or at least afford to meaningfully invest in valuable national social programs.

Readers, brace yourselves for a long, offensive list.

According to Bush’s 2009 national budget, the amount of money raised in this election is more than the federal government allots to Kentucky’s school breakfast program, child and adult care food program, food stamp program, grants to local education agencies, vocational rehabilitation grants, Head Start funding, adoption assistance programs and the HOME program to expand affordable housing to low-income families — combined.

I am not afforded specific positions on such issues as campaign finance reform in this venue, but something needs to stop. Individuals and businesses might believe that by investing in a presidential candidate, they are investing in political change that could make a difference in the future.

But let’s be realists for a second and not the blind, democratic idealists that many politicians would like us to be. This money has the potential for real change, or a least the betterment of individuals and social programs, but instead it goes to TV attack ads and flashy signs for supporters to wave during rallies.

And let’s not forget that only one person wins the seat in the White House. What happens to the other millions of dollars? Not much besides waste.

If only American corporations and individuals found such noble generosity besides every leap year.

Sean Rose is a journalism and English senior. E-mail [email protected].