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What does it cost to become president of the United States?

Updated October 10, 2020 - 5:04 pm

The 2020 presidential election will be the most expensive in history. Spending in the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to be nearly $11 billion — approaching double the cost of the 2016 race when adjusted for inflation, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this election cycle also has been the strangest. Despite pleas from scientists to avoid large gatherings, Trump has continued holding in-person rallies — with crowds largely maskless — so it wasn’t shocking when he announced in early October that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The stakes of this presidential election are high, and supporters on both sides are pulling out all the stops. Organizations such as The Lincoln Project are taking to Twitter with ads that quickly go viral, and traditional TV media buys are saturating airtime.

Here’s a look at some of the leading costs of running a presidential campaign in 2020.

Media buys: Biden

You aren’t getting to the White House without booming your message — and blasting your opponent — with millions of dollars in advertising. Biden has shelled out $236.8 million on advertising — 67% of his total expenditures — according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It’s easy to see how the candidates spend so much. For example, Biden paid an estimated $205,670 for his “Who We Are” ad that aired 1,050 times in Iowa between Jan. 3 and Jan. 14, according to FiveThirtyEight, a statistical analysis website.

Media buys: Trump

Despite his passion for airtime, Trump has dedicated $221.5 million, less than Biden, to media buys, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the grand scheme, though, the president still has invested a huge amount of money in the cause.

Trump has been paying top dollar for negative Biden ads since 2019, well before the former vice president was the Democratic nominee. For example, in 2019, Trump spent an estimated $386,730 on his “Coup” ad that aired nationally three times between Oct. 3 and Oct. 8, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Staff: Biden

Sure, a lot of people are going to believe in you so much that they’ll volunteer to knock on doors, stuff envelopes and phone voters. But candidates need to actually pay most of their staff members.

In fact, Biden has paid $43.2 million in salaries this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He also has racked up another $21.4 million in administrative costs.

Specific salaries vary by position, but field organizers earn an average of $46,000 to $51,000 per year, while regional organizing directors earn approximately $53,000 to $57,000 per year, according to the employment website Glassdoor.

See: The richest politician in every state

Staff: Trump

The president’s quest to remain in office requires the hard work of many campaign staffers. However, he’s spent just $18.5 million on salaries for the 2020 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s less than half of what Biden has spent.

Meanwhile, Trump’s administrative fees total $41.5 million to date, according to the Center, an amount that nearly doubles Biden’s figure.

It’s hard to compare salaries between the Trump and Biden campaigns, as data isn’t available for the same positions. But to give a general idea of what the president is paying his campaign staffers, Glassdoor estimates software developers earn roughly $59,000 to $64,000, while office managers earn about $31,000 to $34,000.

Fundraising: Biden

You’ve got to spend money to get money. And nowhere is that more true than in a run to become president of the United States.

In Biden’s case, he’s spent $19 million on fundraising, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Considering his campaign committee had raised $531 million through fundraising efforts as of Aug. 31, it seems like a good strategy. When was the last time you made an investment that multiplied by 28 times in one year?

Fundraising: Trump

Clearly, the Trump team has been focused on fundraising, but the effort is falling behind Biden’s camp. So far, Trump has spent $16.7 million on fundraising, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Trump’s campaign committee had raised $476.3 million as of Aug. 31, which is an impressive return, but it still falls roughly $55 million short of Biden’s performance.

Trump’s fundraising efforts might take a hit in the final weeks before the Nov. 3 election — at least those fundraisers he’s expected to attend in person — due to his COVID-19 diagnosis. Only time will tell how that plays out.

Democratic National Convention: Biden

Held Aug. 17-20, the Democratic National Convention technically took place in Milwaukee, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only those needed to organize the event were there in person. Convention speakers and delegates did not travel to the city — including Biden and running mate Kamala Harris — and all events were conducted online.

Despite the digital nature of the convention, the 2020 DNC Committee still disbursed $13.4 million in funds from June 1, 2019, to Aug. 31, 2020, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Republican National Convention: Trump

The Republican National Convention took place from Aug. 24-27, and Charlotte, North Carolina, was its official base, although many speeches originated from Washington, D.C. While the convention was largely scaled back in Charlotte due to local COVID-19 restrictions, delegates did convene in the city to nominate Trump for a second term.

Receipts for the RNC totaled $17.8 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. This is approximately $4.4 million more than what Democrats spent for their virtual event.

Online ad spending: Biden

These days, just about everything has gone digital — including presidential campaigning. Both candidates are well aware that not investing in online ads would seriously hurt — or likely ruin — their chances of being elected, so they’re spending top dollar on Facebook and Google ads.

Biden has shelled out at least $115.1 million in online ad spending, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This includes $72.6 million on Facebook ads since Jan. 1, 2020, and $42.5 million on Google ads.

Online ad spending: Trump

When it comes to online ad spending, Trump isn’t holding back. The president has spent at least $186.2 million on digital advertising, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. More specifically, he’s shelled out $107.9 million on Facebook ads since Jan. 1, 2020, and $78.3 million on Google ads.

Overall, Trump has dedicated $71.1 million more to online spending than Biden has.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: How much it costs to become president of the United States

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