Know what the most expensive house in the world is? Here's a hint: It has 16 bedrooms and is supported by six large pillars. It is situated on 18 acres of prime downtown real estate with views of historic sites. Property is fenced to keep the neighbors out. Amenities include a guardhouse, servants, valet parking, a water feature, rose garden, helicopter, limo, private 747, an oval office and access to F-16s if needed in an emergency.
Price: $3 billion.
The White House is not cheap. As of late last week, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama reached the $2 billion mark in money raised for their campaigns to move into the house on Pennsylvania Avenue. According to Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, if you include another $1 billion more spent by the super PACs and political parties on behalf of the candidates, then the price tag is closing in on $3 billion spent during a deep recession.
It's a buyer's market, but the price for the White House keeps rising. From 1976 until 2000, spending for presidential campaigns was under control because candidates were fully funded by public money, which limits how much money they can raise and spend.
Then George W. Bush blew the system apart by refusing to take public funding in 2000. He correctly figured that he could raise more money privately. Since then, presidential candidates have acted like Paris Hilton with her father's credit card.
Bush vs. Kerry in 2004 cost $1.2 billion, and Obama vs. McCain in 2008 cost $1.8 billion. Now Romney and Obama are reaching $3B.
Al Gore's entire campaign cost less than $100 million just 12 years ago. "It seems almost quaint now," says Jowers. Romney raised $111 million in the first half of October alone.
This is the first time both candidates from the major parties declined public funding. They believed they could raise (and spend) more on their own. They were right.
"Everyone would agree, this is not only the most expensive campaign ever, but something no one has ever seen before, with the impact of the super PACs and individual donors," says Jowers. "One individual (Sheldon Adelson) gave $54.44 million, and million-dollar donations have been commonplace. This is a whole new world."
Three billion dollars. That's a lot of money for a lot of warm gas, TV commercials and bus trips. If we wanted to spend $3 billion on self-promotion and name-calling, we could watch "American Idol" or that foul-mouth, grumpy TV chef. But no one has come up with a system to elect the nation's leader. We could debate all day the merits of public funding and the trend toward allowing super PACs to gain more political sway than private citizens and their $250 donations. But it's difficult not to wonder what you could buy with that $3 billion.
You could buy a 2012 Toyota Camry for 160,428 people — enough to put the citizens of Brigham City, American Fork and Bountiful behind the wheel of a new car and have some left over for, say, Bluffdale.
You could pay for the gas 2,032,520 million people use to commute to work every day.
Based on median national prices, you could buy houses for 16,428 people.
You could buy a year's worth of groceries for 11.1 million people.
You could buy Nike shoes for more than 30 million people.
You could pay for the salaries of the World Champion San Francisco Giants for 25 years (but only 15 years for the New York Yankees). If you're looking for a bargain, you could pay for the Oakland A's salaries for more than 54 years.
Still in the market for a sports team? You could buy the bottom 10 teams in the NBA (according to franchise values) — the Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Hornets, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies.
You could send 4.4 million people on a weeklong Caribbean cruise, with an ocean-view room.
You could pay for four years of in-state tuition to a public college for 91,000 students. Or, if you prefer, you could pay for 364,000 years' worth of the same education — almost enough to get today's average student a degree.
You could buy season passes (chairs only) to Snowbird for 30 million skiers. Or 38.4 million lift tickets.
You could pay for cellphone service for 3.5 million teenagers for one year.
Or you could just pay for two men to run for the presidency and hope it pays off in the long run.