Big money in politics – sign of excess?

WASHINGTON – With eight months to go before the U.S. presidential election, the candidates have raised almost $1 billion to fund their campaigns — more than the size of the economies of several African countries.

The unusually long race for the White House — which began in earnest more than a year ago — has been a cash bonanza, especially for Democrats who are breaking all records.

Republicans lag behind but still rake in tens of millions and have time to make up ground in the money game between now and the November 4 national election.

Between January 2007 and February, the candidates raised a record $814 million. By the end of this month, analysts expect the total taken in and spent by the candidates and interest groups will reach $1 billion.

“America’s really taking a big step forward in terms of spending on their elections,” said Steve Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute, a research organization affiliated with George Washington University.

Weissman said the three main presidential candidates — Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain — are pulling in a combined total of at least $100 million a month. Figures show the candidates are spending up to 93 percent of what they have raised.

To put the numbers into perspective, seven African countries or islands each have a gross domestic product of less than $1 billion, according to International Monetary Fund data. They include Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Comoros, the Seychelles, Liberia and Djibouti.