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Presidential Campaign Budgets: USA vs. France – France, a small player?

[Read the original article in French here]


This year in France, the candidate that spent the most during his campaign is now President of the Republic. Presidential campaigns are very expensive, but some more so  than others. The race to the White House in 2012 cost more than 5.4 times the race to the Elysée (at the end of September, more than 4 billion dollars had already been spent). How can such a difference be explained? Who are the Americans that give so much to their preferred candidate?

 First of all, it is important to note the difference between the campaign-funding systems of these two countries. In France, by Organic Law, some of the campaign expenses are covered by the State. During the first round of elections, the parties obtaining less than 5% of votes have an expense limit of 16 million euros, reimbursable up to 47.5% (approximately 8 million euros). During the second round, this limit is pushed to 22 million, also reimbursable up to 47.5% (about 10 million euros). Thus, for the 2012 presidential campaign, the French government supplied 228 million euros in funding.

In the United States, the system functions differently. Since the deregulation of election financing, the two leading parties have collected astronomical sums for their candidate’s campaigns. Donations are indeed made at an entirely different level in the United States. The majority of Americans participate in the campaign effort in smoe, with donations ranging from $0.57 per resident in Arkansas to $3.16 in Connecticut. Furthermore, wealthier Americans are substantial contributors to their favorite candidate’s campaign. Robert Perri, for example, gave $16,000,000 to groups supporting Mitt Romney. Morgan Freeman, the American actor, gave $1,000,000 to various groups supporting of Obama.

Such individual donations are very rare in France. Even though many personalities openly support candidates (for example, the actor Gérard Depardieu supported Nicolas Sarkozy), they are not known for the checks they give them.

In the United States, the Super PACs (Political Action Committees) created for the 2012 campaign are the last links in the chain of donation collection. These organizations have as an objective helping or hurting the progress of certain candidates in the polls. Super PACs do not have any limit for the donations they receive, and thus actively contribute to these financially disproportionate campaigns. Anyone can create his or her own Super PAC. Stephen Colbert (humorist and television host) created the Colbert Super PAC, thanks to which he collected a million dollars in an incredibly short period of time, which he then used to create advertising spots. In addition, candidates also use their personal resources to auto-finance their campaign.

That being said, on October 17th, Barack Obama collected 937 million dollars by combining donations given by individuals, the Democratic Party, and the Priorities Action USA Super PAC. His opponent collected 881.8 millions thanks to the Restore Our Future Super PAC. Comparatively, the expenses of Hollande and Sarkozy, 21.8 and 21.3 million euros respectively, appear quite insignificant.

In the United States, the biggest expense is publicity: more than 65 million was spent in advertising spots in which each candidate strived to mock their adversary enough to turn tip the scales in their favour. In France, most of the spending is geared towards meetings organized by the candidates. Although it is worth noting that Sarkozy spent more than 13 million euros on organized meetings at Villepinte and Place de la Concorde.

It is true that comparing the French and American presidential campaigns can be difficult. One must take into account the size and population of the USA in order to understand that donations are logically of a bigger size. It is indeed expensive to approach the 300 million Americans on their 9.6 million km2 of land (versus 675,000 km2 for France).  The finances of American presidential campaigns appear to have become the principal means of recognition of the candidates, who are outraged when their opponent collects or spends more. In addition, sources of financing are an effective way to underline the differences between the racers to the White House. Obama’s campaign was mostly financed by universities and technological firms (Microsoft and Google), while Wall Street largely supported Romney’s, with allies like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

The results of November 6th had, Barack Obama, the biggest spender in this presidential campaign, remain as president for four more years. Does spending the most guarantee access to the highest function of the State?

Louise Duflot & Geraldine Villeroux (translated from French by Matthieu Charriaud)


(Featured image: par kilaee, Flickr, Creative Commons)

About Geraldine V and Louise D

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