Campaign news this week focused on the war chests of Sen. Hillary Clinton ($26 million), Sen. Barack Obama ($25 million), Mitt Romney ($23 million) and Rudy Guiliani ($15 million). Reading these numbers — and recognizing that this fundraising is going to go on for another 18 months — I feel sorta like I did when I added up the storage in all our external hard drives and realized we have a terabyte of data. And that's not counting the desktop, laptop, and various portable drives.
It's a dual feeling of amazement (geek: wow!) and puzzlement (what's in there that's so important?).
About's Guide to Liberal Politics, Deborah White, wonders if our "first multi-billion dollar presidential campaign [is] really something glorious to crow about."
I say it's not.
But first, a word (or two) about those numbers.
We pay the President of the United States $400,000 a year (it doubled in 2001). That sounds like a lot of money — but relative to the cost of a campaign, it's peanuts. Think about it: candidates have more than $100,000 in their war chests right now. Experts are forecasting a billion dollar campaign.
To raise a billion dollars in one year means generating almost $275,000 each-and-every day. Or $11,460 per hour. This is insane.
There's another way to look at today's $400,000 salary for President, and that's to compare it to Fortune 100 CEO pay. It looks pretty shabby — regardless of how you feel about the relative merits of CEO pay.
And there's yet another measure where it looks very shabby. That's when you take historical presidential salary data and convert it to 2005 dollars. Then we learn that William Howard Taft (1909) raked in the equivalent of $1.6 million. Richard Millhouse Nixon (1969), $1.1 million.
Was there a storm of controversy at the time of the salary increase in 1909 and 1969? I don't know. I'm pretty sure there'd be a storm of controversy today, should Congress decide to raise the salary of the Presidency to more than a million dollars.
So why isn't there a storm of controversy over the high price of political campaigns in general and the presidential campaign in particular?