Campaign spending: Imagine what else we could do with $4 billion Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

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The 2010 elections are over and most of us are breathing a sigh of relief. Even if we didn’t like the outcome of some races, we are probably happy to see the end of bitter campaigning, annoying phone calls, and repetitive radio and television ads.

What really upset me were reports on campaign spending in the 2010 elections. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) reported that more than $4 billion, or the annual GDP of Mongolia, was spent on this election.

Campaign spending does benefit some segments of the economy (notably television and radio stations). However, it is not an investment in a continuing business or service in the sense of most other spending. We do pay for an elected official to represent us at the local, state, or national level, but we could elect that representative by much less financial investment.

More spending

One of the reasons for this huge increase in spending was the Supreme Court decision on corporate personhood, which lead to more “outside spending” in races around the country.

“Outside spending” relates to activities such as election ads, phone calls for candidates, and other electoral activities done on behalf of candidates by persons, groups, or organizations not run by the candidates themselves. Usually there’s more outside spending during presidential elections, but this year it went up even though there wasn’t a race for the presidency.

Educating voters

Although I think it’s important to educate voters, I don’t think we should be spending billions of dollars to do so. Voters can learn about the candidates’ stands on issues through voter forums, debates, and voter education Web sites. These cost little money and probably do a better job at telling voters about the candidates than attack ads.

However, I think many voters don’t take the time to learn about the candidates by reading about them or listening to debates. Instead, they take the quick and easy way by watching 30-second commercials. Many times those ads distort the candidates’ views.

Voting is down

And despite all the money spent, for the most part the American people still did not turn out to vote. The United States Election Project reports that the average turn out was around 41 percent. The project revealed that heavily contested races peaked out just above 50 percent while other states hovered around the high 30s. Despite all the hype and the expensive campaigning, many people stayed home.

Exercising our freedoms

This is sad. We are fortunate to live in a democratic country where we have the freedom to vote. We may not have perfect candidates, but we still should exercise the right to vote for the best candidates on the ballot.

Pope Benedict XVI said last week that lay Catholics have a responsibility to promote social justice and charity in a world often marked by injustice and inequality. Addressing the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on November 4, the Holy Father called for “renewed evangelization of the Church’s social doctrine.”

The pope said that lay people, as “free and responsible citizens,” are invested with “the immediate task of working for a just social order.” Only through charity, “sustained by hope and illuminated by the light of faith and reason,” can the objectives of humanity’s liberation and universal justice be reached, he said.

As citizens, we should challenge our newly-elected government officials at all levels to work for a better society grounded on principles of respect for all human life and the dignity of all persons. Just think what else we could do with $4 billion. Maybe one of our first priorities should be to consider alternatives to reduce campaign spending and instead put that money to promote charity, justice, and equality for everyone in our country.