The presidential campaign season started at the beginning of 2019. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar all announced their candidacies for president last February. Joe Biden waited a little longer and announced in April. Michael Bloomberg joined in November, way too late according to many experts. Even Bloomberg’s supposed “late start” means that his campaign, if successful, would operate for just under a year.
The story of election campaigns is much different in the rest of the developed world. In Canada, campaigns begin usually 50 days before the actual election. Presidential candidates are allotted 90 days to campaign in Mexico. Most countries have laws dictating how long election campaigns can be, but the United States has no such law. America’s almost two-year long presidential election campaign is not only unique but harmful to our political process.
The length of American presidential campaigns requires candidates to raise absurd amounts of money. Sanders announced his run in February 2019. If he makes it all the way to the general this November, his campaign will need enough money to run commercials, pay employees and keep campaign offices open for one year and nine months. Such an operation will require hundreds of millions of dollars. To put this in perspective, Obama and Romney together raised more than $2 billion for the 2012 election.
Buttigieg, Warren and Sanders all raised more than $18 million in the last quarter of 2019. To do this, the vast majority of candidates appealed to corporations and the elite. Buttigieg came under fire recently for hosting a glitzy fundraiser in a Napa Valley wine cave, where six bottles of wine cost $1,215 and most attendees donated upwards of $1,000.
This system lends itself to the elites and corporations essentially bribing candidates and therefore exercising large amounts of control over our politicians. For example, Trump received more than $10,000 in campaign contributions from for-profit prison companies in his 2016 run. This legal bribe by these corporations paid off. Since taking office, Trump has more than doubled the federal government’s spending dedicated to private, for-profit prisons. These “bribes” are bi-partisan. Hillary Clinton received $10,511 from for-profit prisons for her 2016 presidential campaign. These corporations made sure that no matter who won in 2016, they would continue to grow.
The absurd amount of money in US elections has led many progressive candidates to swear a pledge to not take a cent of corporate PAC money. This includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders and many more. These candidates understand that they have to raise exorbitant amounts of money to have any chance of winning, but believe it can be done via small donations from regular, working Americans. While corporations will always seek to exercise control over our democracy, shortening election campaigns would help to curb this influence simply because candidates would not have to raise nearly as much.
At the same time, long election seasons cause burnout and exhaustion. The Iowa primary is less than two weeks away, but after multiple debates, constant “scandals" and the continuous hype for more than a year, it is easy for even the biggest political junkies to stop paying attention. Campaign season seems perpetual, exhausting those involved in the process and keeping those not politically involved on the periphery.
Critically, the length and expense of America’s presidential campaign takes much of the media and public spotlight away from the legislative branch and puts it almost exclusively on the president. The difference in voter turnout between presidential elections and midterms is astounding. From early 2019, the focus has been on the 2020 election and not on the body responsible for actually governing. The long campaign means that those in Congress running for president have to put their governing duties on the back burner.
Due to constant campaigning, Sanders missed more than 60% of votes on the Senate floor this past year, while Warren missed 54 percent and Klobuchar missed 39 percent. The country and media are so focused on the presidency and what will happen in the November election that very little attention is placed on those passing laws in Congress. From voter ID laws to gerrymandering, American elections need a complete overhaul, but shortening the campaign season is one way to start.