How Much does It Cost to Run for President?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Campaigning for US president can be a very expensive proposition. Running a campaign to win a presidential primary can range in cost from $50 million US Dollars (USD) to over $100 million USD. By itself, this cost is already enormous, but there’s even more that must be spent to run for president. Once the primaries are over and the nominees begin their campaigns to win the general election, an additional $75 million USD is typically spent.

Both of the major candidates spent over $1 billion, mostly in advertising, in the 2012 Presidential Election.
Both of the major candidates spent over $1 billion, mostly in advertising, in the 2012 Presidential Election.

Presidential hopefuls actually start raising money about a year before the primary election. Fundraising is considered a very important part of gaining the notice necessary to be successful as a presidential nominee. In many cases, the candidate who raises the most money before the primary election stands the best chance of being chosen to run by his or her party. Candidates needn’t raise all of their own money to run in the primary election, however. If a candidate agrees to limit his campaign spending to a certain amount and spread it out geographically, he or she can receive matching campaign funds from the federal government.

Presidential candidates often host fundraising events to further their campaign.
Presidential candidates often host fundraising events to further their campaign.

In some elections, candidates have decided to raise all their own money to run for president. When a candidate decides to forgo federal matching funds and spend only his own money, he is not required to limit spending or spread funds out geographically. In fact, President George W. Bush opted to raise his own money in the 2000 election and secured about $100 million USD. This amount was actually twice the sum candidates were restricted to if they opted for federal fund matching in that election.

After the presidential nominees have been selected, the general election campaign starts and is financed through public funding. The cost to run for president in the general election can amount to at least $70 million USD, although the amount of money required can vary. It is possible that at some point in the future, all presidential candidates will run without taking any federal contributions. According to campaign finance experts, this change could push the cost to more than $500 million USD.

Many individuals call the presidency the most expensive political office. It has this reputation in spite of the fact that the general election is publicly funded. People who wonder where the public funds come from should check a United States federal tax return. Near the top, there is a checkbox designed to indicate whether or not the filer wishes to contribute a small, set amount of money to the general election.

Presidential hopefuls generally start raising money about a year before the primary elections.
Presidential hopefuls generally start raising money about a year before the primary elections.
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


I think the average person could run for president if they had a few other things going for them. Presidents don't usually have $175 million spare, after all. They get that money by winning the endorsement of unions and companies and so forth.

You'd have to be very smart, very charismatic, and very ambitious. Run for a local office and work your way up. If you get to the point where you're in a prominent position, say, as the governor of a state, then you're halfway there.

It's not something that you can do on a whim. It's something you'd have to dedicate your entire life to. Money can be found. It's not something that I'd want to do. But I do sincerely believe that it is possible for a person without much money to run for president.


@Iluviaporos - It's the same problem all over the world. The people who want to be in power (and the people who are able to be in power) are often the people least suited to it.

I can almost see why a kind of monarchy could work, if it was done properly. If a child is raised to take their job properly as a leader, trained all their life to be a decent person, then that could work well. No money required. Of course, then the people don't have the choice to change the leadership if they need to.


@anon257086 - That sounds good to me too, but unfortunately it's never going to happen. If a candidate didn't spend any money, most of the country would have no idea who they were or what they stood for. The USA is simply too large for someone to make an impact without large amounts of money.

The problem being, of course, that we'll only ever get the same sort of people as candidates over and over. People who have massive amounts of money, people who have the time and the influence. I'm not saying these kinds of people make the worst presidents, but they hardly have anything in common with the common people.


Can someone tell me about the history of publicly financed campaigns? This seems like such an obvious and necessary idea, but also one that is dead in the water. Is there any hope that we might one day return to the widespread use of public financing for campaigns?


@apolo72 In one month of funding alone (July 2012) the two candidates raised $175 million! One month.


I want a president who has $0, but is very down to earth. If you love something give it away. If there's a president who doesn't spend $50 million, he has my vote.


The general election can be publicly funded, but does not have to be. In 2008, John McCain took public funding as he promised he would. Barack Obama said he would, then chose not to. So Obama's general election financing was not publicly financed.


Let's say that you are not worried about the money for campaigning! All you want to do is get your name on the ballot. how much does that cost?


My question is could it be done for less. What happens to the average guy who wants to give it try? He has great plans, workable ideas and no funds?


The cost to run a Presidential campaign is only rising. In the 2008 race, some of the major candidates in the presidential primaries spent well over $75 million before Super Tuesday! You can only imagine what that will grow to for the two general election candidates by the time the whole thing is over. Maybe campaign finance reform isn't such a bad idea? Isn't there a better place to invest this kind of money?

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