This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.
Scary amount of election cash this All Hallows (Election) Eve
By Aaron J. Brown
The Washington Post reported last week that candidates will spend more than a combined $2 billion in the nation’s House and Senate races so far this election cycle, about $4 million per seat. Compare that total to the $2.3 billion people are projected to spend on Halloween costumes this year, according to IBIS World from a Jason Notte story in The Street.
The specter of political spending rising to Halloween levels is a campfire tale that should have you rattling in your boots. After all, this figure does not include the vast expenditures by the political parties and outside groups, who generally produce the nastiest of the ads we see on TV. Nevertheless, with Election Day always falling so close to Halloween, we Americans sure dedicate an impressive amount of resources to frighten people into giving up votes or candy and/or their own sense of shame.
In addition to more or less matching costume buyers, U.S. political candidates this year will spend more than all Halloween candy sales, slated to run about $1.77 billion according to the National Retail Federation. When you see a political ad on TV just know that one political ad equals roughly 960 fun size Snicker bars. Which would you rather have?
The NRF, again from that same story in The Street, projects Americans will spend about $66.28 apiece on Halloween this year (this includes the decorations, cards and party supplies). Candidates will spend a combined $6 per person on Congressional races. To be fair, if we factored the cost of “party supplies” into politics, the resulting number would be more like a theoretical symbol requiring special key strokes. But, by the available numbers, Halloween still leads the way by a factor of 10.
There remain some spooky questions here. For instance, when I buy my kids a pumpkin at the local patch, purchase a hard hat for my Bob the Builder doppelganger, or acquire a bag of candy to “hand out” to local “kids,” I know who profits. But who profits from political spending?
It’s not exactly right to say the candidates profit, because by law half of them lose. Even the winners go on to earn far less than was spent on their behalf as members of Congress, at least until they cash in and become lobbyists or cable news commentators down the line. The real winners might be the interests advanced by those candidates, ideally puppies, apple pie and hard work and not Big “Name of Word that Makes You Angry.” But political spending has become more of a standard operating expense for these groups, something that will never end.
No, the real profits of these political expenditures can probably be traced up the chain of the media, far past the talking heads and bylines you see every day. A layer of consultants, opinion merchants and tycoons reap the rewards of those nasty ads on TV. They aren’t Republicans or Democrats, not really. They’re something else, not mercenaries exactly, but the kinds of people who would raise a private army if they didn’t own the people who ran the real one. To me, this whole enterprise is far scarier than any ghosts, goblins or zombies you might see wandering around this Halloween.
So Happy Halloween, everyone! Today is a fun day. Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, not out of fear, but with deep, abiding courage and foresight. May your pockets be full of Milky Ways when you cast your ballot. Chew with conviction, and know that the candy now costs less than what we call democracy these days.
Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer and community college instructor. Read more at MinnesotaBrown.com or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”