The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The 2014 election cost $3.7 billion. We spend twice that much on Halloween.

It's become fashionable in politics to decry the role money plays in the process.  And, there's no question that a big part of being a candidate is asking people for money.  But, it's also worth putting just how much money elections cost -- $3.7 billion for the 2014 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- into some context. And when you do that, it doesn't seem like all that much.

Check out this chart from Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman's post-election slide deck, which he generously shared with me.

Now, there's an important caveat to the chart above.  The $3.7 billion spent on the 2014 election comes from a relative pittance of the overall U.S. population. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, just 666,773 individuals had donated more than $200 to campaigns, parties and political action committees in the 2014 election cycle. (Contributions under $200 do not have to be itemized.) Even if you assume another few thousand people -- and that is a VERY high estimate -- helped fund the world of outside groups that don't have to publicly report their donors, you are still under 670,000 total Americans responsible for that $3.7 billion. 

Do a little math and you see that the number of people who helped finance Tuesday's election amount to .2 percent of the United States' population of 316 million.  All of the other categories in Mehlman's chart are populated by lots and lots more Americans.

So, the truth is that elections aren't that expensive when compared to plenty of other parts of American society that we never complain about costing too much. Where election spending stands out is in how few people are responsible for its cost.

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