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The Price of "Change"


Mind-blowing costs of a presidential run.

Running for the highest office in the land isn't cheap. Luckily, there's a regulatory board -- the Federal Election Commission -- that tracks candidates' expenditures so the great excesses of our democracy can be appropriately lampooned.

But to be fair, the inflated price tag has become a necessary evil.

The Federal Election Commission introduced public financing in 1976. The program sought to restrict how -- and how much -- money could be spent on political campaigns by matching private donations up to a set amount.

Every winning presidential candidate from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton stayed inside the margins, but in his 2000 bid for his party's nomination -- that is, for the multiple state primaries -- George W. Bush opted out. It was a game-changing move.

Four years later, any candidate hoping to mount a serious threat to the incumbent had to opt out, too. President Bush, who faced no opposition from within his party, could pool conserved primary funds with those earmarked for the general election, easily outspending his rival in the race for the White House.

That year John Kerry, who secured the Democratic nomination, but lost in the head-to-head matchup, rejected public funding for his primary campaign. Both he and President Bush accepted financing for the general election.

In 2008, the entire field of Republican contenders and all but one Democrat hopeful rejected the program. Two will secure their party's nomination, run for the top job. Their devotion to civil service or unbelievable hubris or both could very nearly tally $250,000,000 apiece.

When John McCain's campaign had sunk to its lowest depths amid his unpopular co-authorship of even more unpopular immigration legislation, when it needed an injection of capital most, he still didn't accept public financing. In the era of the $500,000,000 election cycle, it's better to go for broke resuscitating a campaign than risk bouncing back only to have fixed assets with which to compete.

By the looks of things, he made the right decision.

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