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Cost of 2004 Elections Tops $4 Billion

The price of democracy in 2004: $4 billion, and that's not even counting all the ballots, poll workers and election lawyers.

Add the expenses borne by states and local government — to be determined later — and the price tag rises anywhere from hundreds of millions of dollars to possibly upward of $1 billion more.

In the business world, $5 billion would be enough to buy out Donald Trump (search) — twice. It would pay for about 2,200 Super Bowl commercials, or educate about 30,000 students at Yale, the alma mater of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (search).

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Where did eral election campaigns, with about one-third of that spent by Bush and Kerry.

Ad firms consumed much of the money, but other small businesses got a piece of the action, too. Former Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean (search), for example, spent nearly $7,000 on "thank you" chocolates for donors, bought from home state truffle maker Lake Champlain Chocolates.

The Democratic and Republican parties and the host committees helping them spent about $162 million on their nominating convention, including about $29 million in taxpayer money.

In all, the two parties spent at least $957 million this election cycle. Bush and Kerry also have millions to draw on in case of a presidential recount — some $78 million between the two politicians.

Much of the money poured into partisan politics this election cycle came from outside groups. Organizations collecting the unlimited donations the national parties are now barred from raising spent at least $436 million in 2003 and '04, figures compiled by the Political Money Line campaign finance tracking service show.

In addition, the AFL-CIO and its two largest unions planned to spend $150 million urging members to vote.

Taxpayers are throwing in hundreds of millions of dollars more.

The National Association of Secretaries of State estimates the elections will cost an average of $33 million per state. The costliest: California, at roughly $66 million. The least expensive is Wyoming, about $500,000.

The Justice Department is sending out more than 1,000 election observers and poll monitors, and will figure out the cost later.

With thousands of different agencies involved from the local to the federal level, it would be a massive undertaking to obtain solid spending figures from everyone, Government Accountability Office noted.

The estimated $4 billion that candidates, party committees and interest groups devoted to the congressional and presidential races is about $1 billion more than in the 1999-2000 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group.

It's a lot of money — but still a bargain compared with what it could cost to match the net worth of the nation's wealthiest person, Bill Gates.

The Microsoft founder could cover campaigning and voting costs for about eight elections like this one — without going broke.