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Factbox: When it comes to spending big on elections, few can challenge America

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Voters cast their ballots in the final minutes of in-person voting in nationally significant U.S. Senate and state governor races at the Board of Elections in rural Louisville, Georgia, U.S. November 4, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Georgia’s U.S. Senate race, set to end in a Tuesday runoff, will be the most expensive contest of America’s midterm elections, capping the election cycle of a democracy that is highly money-intensive.

More than $400 million has already been spent on the Georgia contest, a significant chunk of the nearly $9 billion that the Center for Responsive Politics – an independent research group – expects to have gone to funding the midterms.

Following are comparisons to other democracies in the world.

India, the world’s largest democracy by population, was touted by some observers as having the most expensive election ever in 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a second term in office as his Bharatiya Janata Party outspent opposition parties. The elections cost close to 600 billion rupee, or more than $8 billion at the time, according to the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies, with politicians spending big on advertising, giant rallies and gifts across the nation of 1.3 billion people.

While readily-comparable numbers aren’t available across nations, India’s spending in 2019 was at least in the neighborhood of the estimated $8 billion spent on U.S. federal elections in 2016, the year Republican Donald Trump won the White House. But India’s spending pales in comparison to the more than $16 billion that the Center for Responsive Politics, or CRP, estimates was spent on America’s 2020 elections, when Democrat Joe Biden won control of the White House. That likely makes America the largest democracy measured in dollars.

In this year’s elections in Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, candidates at all levels of government spent 12.6 billion reais, or $2.4 billion, as leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. The amount of money spent wooing voters was likely higher when considering a wave of public spending by Bolsonaro after the Brazilian Congress created an “emergency” exemption to electoral law, which normally limits campaign season splurges.

By comparison, campaign finances are relatively modest in many wealthy nations, including the United Kingdom, which had a campaign season of just over a month for 2019 parliamentary contests that led to the election of Boris Johnson as prime minister and set tight limits on spending by candidates. In the United States, campaigning often begins more than a year before election day and regulators put no limits on spending by campaigns.

The regulatory difference helps keep UK campaign finances trim. Candidates, political parties and other regulated political groups spent only around £56 million, or about $68 million, during the 2019 contests, according to the UK’s Electoral Commission. To put that in perspective, the CRP estimates about $65 million was spent on one 2022 U.S. Senate race to represent Missouri, a state of about 6 million.

France also places strict limits on spending. During France’s presidential elections in 2022, all 12 candidates combined spent just over 83 million euros, or about $88 million, according to the French government. President Emmanuel Macron spent the most, with his campaign spending 16.7 million euros.

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