It is estimated that the gaggle of 2008 presidential hopefuls will spend, collectively, more than $1 billion in campaigning.

Based on 62 million votes cast in the 2004 presidential election, we're talking $16-plus for each vote.

The largest chunks of that will be to purchase television, radio, and online advertising, and to hire public relations firms and other image-crafting specialists to try and convince voters that any given candidate is the man/woman who will step up and solve all the nation's woes.

The challenge is to take a (in most cases) multi-millionaire, who is accustomed to a lifestyle the average working person can only dream of ($400 haircuts, private jets, million-and-up homes, glitzy social events, etc.) and turn him/her into a carefully-scripted robot, who can mouth the same I-share-your-pain platitudes and hot button sound bites day-in and day-out, without (hopefully) doing or saying anything that will cause unfavorable attention by the media or Internet bloggers.

And above all, to position them to raise as much money as possible to buy more ads and more exposure.

Election 2008 is more than a year away, and through June 10 Republican candidate Mitt Romney had already placed nearly 5,000 TV ads — more than all the other candidates combined. In the first quarter, he raised a whopping $20.7 million, second only to Hillary Clinton's $26 million, both eclipsed in the second quarter by Barack Obama's record shattering $32.5 million ($58 million January-June).

The general perception of the public, when these huge amounts are hyped in the media, is that they're chiefly contributions from John and Jane Doe, supporting candidates in whom they believe. In reality, major amounts come from 900-pound gorilla special interests, such as the health care industry, oil/gas companies, the military/arms sector, insurance companies, and other big business entities that have a huge financial interest in how political winds blow.

“The avalanche of health care industry cash is corrupting public policy on health care,” says Michael Lighty, public policy director for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, which recently released research on the influence the industry wields on Capitol Hill. Leading recipients of health care industry campaign contributions are Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, according to the study.

“These staggering sums have a crushing impact on policy,” says Deborah Burger, the organization's president, nothing that the avalanche of cash “produces huge financial benefits for the health care industry.”

In federal lobbying alone, the industry spent over $2.2 billion in the past decade, more than all other industry sectors combined. It paid off big this past April when the Senate, after heavy lobbying by the pharmaceutical and insurance industry, killed legislation that would have let Medicare use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, with billions in savings to the taxpayer.

That's just one of countless examples. Only the most naïve could believe that the millions of dollars funneled by major corporations into political coffers don't buy influence that has potential to pay handsome returns.

And we all are the poorer for it.