Senate Races, Pro Salaries and Perspective on Spending

by Nathan L. Gonzales May 7, 2015 · 10:14 AM EDT

Complaining about campaign spending is a time-honored tradition, along with the Kentucky Derby and Major League Baseball. But a closer look reveals the dollars spent on controlling government pales in comparison to spending in other areas of life.

Speaker John A. Boehner tried to make that point recently with Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” “We spend more money on antacids than we do on politics,” the Ohio Republican said. “We live in an imperfect democracy. But as bad as it is, let me tell you this. It’s better than any other place in the world.”

Even though Politifact rated Boehner’s statement as false, because his spending figure apparently accounted for worldwide sales and not just domestic, his overall call for perspective on spending is worth considering.

In 2014, candidates, both parties and outside groups spent $53.8 million on the Kentucky Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But the battle between GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, which helped decide control of the Senate, was close to the $50 million people bet on this year’s Kentucky Derby, according to the NBC broadcast.

Last cycle’s Georgia Senate race between GOP businessman David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn featured $45.4 million in spending. That’s about the same amount as the Atlanta Falcons have allotted to spend on their quarterback, running backs and wide receivers this upcoming season.

It took $33.8 million to decide the Colorado race between Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republican Rep. Cory Gardner. But that’s less than two Denver sports franchises have allotted to spend on just two players this year: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning ($17.5 million) and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki ($20 million).

Democrat Mary L. Landrieu lost re-election to GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy in a Senate race that featured $38.5 million in spending. That’s nearly $5 million less than the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans paid their starting five players this season.

Democrats were never really at risk of losing Minnesota, but all interested parties invested $40 million, which is close to what Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer ($23 million) and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson ($15.4 million) are slated to make this year.

It’s possible that the same people who complain about too much money in politics would also complain about the amount of money being paid to professional athletes. But neither dynamic is likely to change anytime soon.