The duo write: "Significantly more money will be spent on tolerated, but illegal bracket gambling than spent on a legal, but not tolerated presidential election. Begging the question: Is there McCain-Feingold bracket reform in the future?"
This is far from the first time that Republicans have sought to contextualize how much campaigns cost to make the point that, in truth, it's just not all that much. Back in November, I wrote a post off a PowerPoint slide by GOP lobbyist Bruce Mehlman that showed Americans spend far more money on Halloween than they did on the 2014 election.
And, they have a point -- but only to a point.
The key piece of context here is the raw number of individuals involved in spending on campaigns versus spending on gambling on the NCAA Tournament. In the article Ulm and O'Bannon cite for the $9 billion figure, it's noted that roughly 40 million people are responsible for that total. That's roughly 12.6 percent of the nation's 316 million people gambling on the NCAA Tournament.
Now, compare that to say, the $3.7 billion raised and spent in the 2014 midterm elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, just 666,773 individuals had donated more than $200 to campaigns, parties and political action committees in that 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. That amounts to .2 percent of the U.S. population.
Dive even deeper into the numbers and you see how much of the billions expended on elections are spent by a very few very wealthy people. "In the 2012 election, 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people," writes the Sunlight Foundation's Lee Drutman. "In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States."
The strongest point then for those who believe money plays an outsized role in politics is not the raw total dollars spent but rather the tiny fraction of the American public who spends that money. The other big takeaway? We Americans love to gamble -- especially on sports.