What Could $100 Million Buy You — Besides Campaign Ads In Kentucky?
For the amount of money that's expected to be spent in the Kentucky race for U.S. Senate this year, you could buy a bottle of the state's own Maker's Mark whiskey for nearly every man, woman and child in the state.
Some observers say the election could end up as the most expensive Senate race in history, with spending topping $100 million. And why wouldn't it be? It's at the heart of the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
The incumbent, Mitch McConnell, is the top Republican in the Senate and could become majority leader. It turns out he's not so popular in his home state, which has created an opening for Kentucky's Democratic secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Not only are the candidates and political parties spending big; so are outside groups. Which got us wondering: If that $100 million weren't going to political consultants, mailers and TV ads, what could it buy?
How about 1.333 million Louisville Slugger bats? The company headquartered in downtown Louisville makes the official bat of Major League Baseball. Broken down further, that works out to 1,777 bats per player in the major leagues.
"Most major league players will go through about 10 dozen bats per year," says Rick Redman, vice president for corporate communications with the bat-maker.
That means $100 million would buy enough bats to last every Major League Baseball player for almost 15 years.
"That is more than twice the length of the average Major League Baseball career, so it is a lot of Louisville Slugger bats. No question about it," says Redman.
$100 million would also buy:
793 median-priced homes in Kentucky.
2,222,000 tickets to University of Kentucky Wildcats games. That's enough to fill the university's Rupp Arena for nearly five seasons.
200 top-notch race horses.
"For $100 million, you could have bought the 200 top-priced horses sold during the premier Book 1 catalog at the 2013 September Sale," emails Amy Gregory, director of communications for the Keeneland Association, which claims to conduct the world's largest thoroughbred auction. "Eighteen of those horses sold for $1 million or more each; the top price was $2.5 million paid for a War Front colt."
A hundred million bucks would also buy a lot of bourbon.
"Think of it as Kentucky brown water," says Bill Samuels Jr., chairman emeritus of the Maker's Mark Distillery.
Samuels ran through the math for us.
"If you take the average selling price of a bottle of Maker's across the country, it's right at $25 and that would mean 4 million bottles. And we have slightly more than 4 million people in Kentucky, so that would be a bottle for everybody," he says.
Practically speaking, though, Maker's Mark doesn't have that much whiskey to spare. The company has been experiencing a shortage over the last couple of years.
And, finally, $100 million would close the state's budget gap for the coming year.
"It's really remarkable, especially in a state as poor as this one," says Sam Youngman, a political reporter for The Lexington Herald-Leader. "In Frankfort, the state capital, they're facing a $90 million budget shortfall. You do have to wonder sometimes where our monetary priorities are."
But, he's quick to point out, it's quite unlikely big political spenders like the Koch bothers or environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer are looking to help the state shore up its budget shortfall.
"I think they've got a bigger game in mind," says Youngman.
TAMARA KEITH, HOST:
In a minute, we'll calculate how many bottles of bourbon $100 million could buy. It's a lot. But first, why? That's how much some political observers say the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky could end up costing. It would make it the most expensive Senate race in history, and why wouldn't it be? It's at the heart of the battle for the control of the U.S. Senate. And it's a matter of pride because the incumbent, Mitch McConnell, is the top Republican in the Senate. It turns out he's also pretty unpopular in his home state, which has created an opening for Kentucky's Democratic secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes. Sam Youngman is a political reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, and he joins us now. Hi.
SAM YOUNGMAN: Hi, Tamara. Thanks for having me.
KEITH: Thanks for joining us. Do you know exactly how much money has been spent on this race so far?
YOUNGMAN: Well, it looks like between 25 and 30 million had been spent by the end of the spring. But that ends April 30. So we've seen a lot of spending since then, and it's hard to say just how much has been out there already.
KEITH: The number that's being thrown around as an expected final total is $100 million between the candidates, the national party committees and the outside groups. Do you think they'll hit that by November?
YOUNGMAN: I really don't know. I mean, they're going to have to start spending in a hurry, I would say, because the spending hasn't quite matched the levels we were expecting so far. That being said, we've got a couple months ago. It's only getting more intense, and I certainly expect to see more outside money in play. So really, I think the sky is the limit for these groups because the stakes are just so high.
KEITH: All this talk about spending potentially $100 million on a Senate race made us wonder what else you could get for a $100 million in Kentucky. So we got out our calculators and we made some calls.
RICK REDMAN: Rick Redman.
KEITH: Hi, Rick. This is Tamara from NPR.
REDMAN: How're you doing, Tamara?
KEITH: Pretty good...
KEITH: Rick Redman is the vice president of corporate communications for Louisville Slugger.
REDMAN: The official bat of Major League Baseball.
KEITH: He did some back-of-the-envelope calculations - about 75 bucks a bat, 750 major leaguers, 10 dozen bats a year per player.
REDMAN: A hundred million dollars would buy enough Louisville Slugger bats to last every player in Major League Baseball nearly 15 years.
KEITH: That sounds like a long time.
REDMAN: That's a long time. That is more than twice the length of the average Major League Baseball career.
KEITH: A hundred million could fill the seats of University of Kentucky's Rupp Arena for nearly five seasons of Wildcat basketball games. It could also buy a lot of bourbon.
BILL SAMUELS: Think of it as Kentucky brown water.
KEITH: We called up Bill Samuels, Jr., chairman emeritus of Maker's Mark distillery.
SAMUELS: If you take the average selling price of a bottle of Maker's across the country, it's right at $25. And that would mean 4 million bottles. And we have slightly more than 4 million people in Kentucky. So that would be a bottle for everybody.
YOUNGMAN: Or just my first year and half of college.
KEITH: That's political reporter Sam Youngman, again. The point of this is to say a hundred million dollars is kind of an abstract concept - just a big number. But it could pay for a lot of stuff.
YOUNGMAN: It's really remarkable. I mean, especially in a state as poor as this one. I mean, we just found out yesterday that in Frankfort, the state capital, they're facing a $90 million budget shortfall.
KEITH: So we've sort of been talking about this money like it's going into a black hole. Where is this money going? And is it trickling down to the economy in Kentucky?
YOUNGMAN: Well, I think the majority of the funds that will be spent here in Kentucky will be going to television advertising. That's what we've seen so far. I will always remember being in New Hampshire in 2004 and seeing the WMUR Station's brand-new building. And they called it the house that Steve Forbes built because he'd spent so many much money there during 2000 they'd built a new television station. I would say that this is a great time to own a television station in Kentucky.
KEITH: Sam Youngman is a political reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Thanks so much.
YOUNGMAN: Thank you, Tamara.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I HAD A MILLION DOLLARS")
BARENAKED LADIES: (Singing) And if I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars - well, I'd buy you some art - a Picasso hassle or a Garfunkel. If I had a million dollars - if I had a million - well, I'd buy you a monkey, haven't you always wanted a monkey? If I had a million dollars, I'd buy your love.
KEITH: BJ Liederman wrote our theme song. You couldn't buy that even with $100 million. You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.