American mainstream media often paints a bleak picture about American politics. Dark money, we are told, is ruining our elections. Wealthy speakers are equally suspicious. But what do the numbers really tell us?

T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner helped put this all in perspective during the 2014 elections. Americans spent some $3.67 billion on the midterm elections—surely an impressive number by itself. In context, though, Americans spend remarkably low amounts of money on politics. Americans seem much more interested in beer ($83 billion), Taco Bell ($6 billion), and potato chips ($6 billion), than they do in politics ($3.67 billion) in a given year.

In the last electoral cycle, the Koch Brothers spent $100 million on politics. If Americans took just one percent of the money they allocate for beer in a year that would amount to a political spending power of $830 million, or about 8.3 times the political spending power of the Koch Brothers in 2014. If Americans allocated ten percent of their beer budget for political spending, that would amount to a political spending power of $8.3 billion or roughly 83 times the political spending power of the Koch Brothers in 2014.

It is not difficult to see that political spending parity can be achieved, but Americans have to decide where best to allocate their funds. For some, rational ignorance of the political process makes sense because government seems far removed or irrelevant to their lives. For others, investing money in retirement accounts, beer funds, or saving for college tuition makes better sense. But within this wide range of spending options there are certainly openings for Americans to spend more, if they want to, in the political process and easily beat back “dark money.”

For those who elect to spend money in politics—whether that be by contributions to a presidential candidate or sponsoring a billboard for the local mayoral candidate—protecting that freedom is important. As the Supreme Court realized in its famous Buckley case, “Being free to engage in unlimited political expression subject to a ceiling on expenditures is like being free to drive an automobile as far and as often as one desires on a single tank of gasoline.” Protecting all the ways Americans pay for that speech is one of the strongest ways to protect speech itself.