Is a $2.6 Billion Election Actually Cheap?

Amid debate over issues of import and the political mudslinging surrounding the midterm elections, politicians, parties and activists are on track to spend a record-breaking $2.6 billion on their campaigns.

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In a report issued today, the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks the influence of money in campaigns, predicts that roughly $2.6 billion will be spent to influence the 472 federal contests and to "pad the war chests of incumbents not running this year." The amount would break the previous record for midterm elections, $2.2 billion, set four years ago.

While that may sound like a huge amount of money, there are some people on Capitol Hill who say that, in the context of other spending, it's really not that much.

It's about the same amount Americans spend on chewing gum each year, $2.5 billion. It's about the same as those looking to strike it rich spent on the Pennsylvania lottery in 2005, and is a little more than the estimate of what the United States spends on Iraq just in one week -- $2 billion.

The record-election spending is also just a fraction of what Americans shell out at the box office each week to catch the latest thriller or drama, which adds up to roughly $8 billion a year.

And the current election cycle will cost a lot less than what is spent in this country on hunting -- an estimated $22 billion each year.

So the argument goes, $2.6 billion a year on the midterm elections might sound like a lot of money, but in fact, perhaps it's not enough given the issues at stake.