A half-billion in outside influence: What else could the money buy?

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A little less than six weeks shy of Election Day, we've crossed another campaign spending Rubicon: Sunlight's Follow the Unlimited Money tracker has now recorded more than $500 million in a spending on the 2012 campaign by outside interest groups.

pile of cash For those of you who have a hard time wrapping your heads around all those zeros, Sunlight's Jake Harper has calculated that it's enough to cover 155 football fields with $100 bills.

An indicator of just how rapidly folks who can write big checks are doing so: Our tracker showed a $28 million jump in 48 hours just this week. 

Keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg: This is merely the spending by outside groups that's reported to the Federal Election Commission. There are lots of expenditures that are not.

Of the spending by outside group that we know about, 71 percent funded campaign activity to oppose, rather than support candidates. So what else might the bankrollers of all that negativity have gotten for their largesse?

Here are just a few ideas. What are yours?

$500 million dollars could…

  • Buy a month's worth of groceries for more than 500,000 families of four (on a moderate cost plan as defined by the USDA)
  • Hire 11,363 more teachers in schools across the country (according to the national average salary)
  • Buy 2,500 homes (for homes costing $200,000)
  • Cover annual health care for about $25,000 families of four (according to the national average as reported by the L.A. Times)
  • Underwrite a month of day care for 1 million kids (paying $500 a month, which is approximately the nation's average)
  • Buy 2.5 million 16GB iPhone 5's (according to Apple)
  • Put 9,952 more police officers on the streets of U.S. cities (according to the reported national average)
  • Send 8,500 students to the country's most expensive college (Sarah Lawrence College)
  • Increase the number of  Pell Grants the federal government gives out by 90,909 (using the figures for the maximum grant)
  • Support 71,428 people on welfare for one year (based on $7,000 a year per individual figure from the  Heritage Foundation)

(Nancy Watzman, Jake Harper and Nicko Margolies contributed to this post; Photo credit: Pixhook via iStockphoto.com)