Originally posted at opensecrets.org
NFL Teams Play Political Football
Updated 10/13 to provide additional methodological notes.
After months of lockout trepidation and another summer of the sports doldrums, the National Football League is back in full force. Americans can again look forward to weekly Sunday afternoon football oases and the fantasy football leagues that stave off office boredom in between them.
A new year means a fresh start for teams like the Houston Texans. Not only is the NFL’s newest team the favorite to win its division for the first time, the team ranks as the most politically active since January 2009, according to a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Texans can thank their owner and founder, energy executive Robert McNair, for that.
McNair has donated $215,200 of his estimated $1.4 billion net worth to political causes since January 2009, almost strictly to Republicans. That pushes the Texans to a team total of $293,100 in political contributions from its players, executives and coaches.
That is more than enough to outdo the No. 2 team, the San Diego Chargers, whose players and executives gave $171,500 to federal politicians and committees since January 2009, according to the Center’s research. The majority of that sum came from the Spanos family, which includes the owner, the president and the chief executive officer.
Meanwhile, the New York Jets ranked third among the most politically active NFL teams, at $147,850 in contributions, according to the Center’s research.
Most of this came from Jets owner Woody Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. Johnson has given $130,550 since January 2009, according to the Center’s research, the second most of anyone associated with the NFL. Like McNair, almost all of Johnson’s generosity benefited Republicans.
Players and executives of the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins have also given more than $100,000 to federal candidates and committees since January 2009, according to the Center’s analysis. No other teams cracked that mark.
Overall, the teams that favored Republicans most with their campaign cash included the Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens, all of which donated at least 70 percent of their contributions to the GOP.
Meanwhile, the teams that favored Democrats most with their political donations included the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, all of which donated at least 70 percent of their political contributions to Democrats.
In all, NFL players, owners and executives, along with their spouses, contributed a total of at least $1.4 million to federal candidates and political committees since January 2009, according to the Center’s research, with about two-thirds of that money aiding Republicans.
That sum includes only money to candidates and party-affiliated political committees. It does not include money to nonpartisan political action committees.
According to the Center’s analysis, eight of the 10 biggest NFL-related political donors, all owners, also make the list of the 10 biggest contributors to Republicans.
Some of these men have given large amounts to each party, such as Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Indianapolis Colts owner James Irsay and the San Diego Chargers’ owner Alex Spanos.
But most lean heavily Republican with their money like McNair, Johnson, and the Arizona Cardinals’ Bidwell family.
Only New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who’s overseen three Super Bowl-winning teams, has heavily favored Democrats and given enough to make the top 10 contributors list. Of the $33,600 he has contributed since 2009, only $4,800 went to Republicans.
Seattle Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen comes close to Kraft’s level of Democratic generosity. He’s given every cent of his $36,000 in contributions since 2009 to Democratic causes.
Here is the list of the top 10 individual NFL-related political donors since January 2009. These figures include all contributions to federal candidates, parties and political action committees, including nonpartisan groups. Percentages to Democrats and Republicans are based only on partisan contributions:
Here is the list of the top 10 individual NFL-related political donors who have given the most money to Republicans since January 2009. These figures include all contributions to federal candidates, parties and political action committees, including nonpartisan groups. Percentages to Democrats and Republicans are based only on partisan contributions:
And here is the list of the top 10 individual NFL-related political donors who have given the most money to Democrats since January 2009. These figures include all contributions to federal candidates, parties and political action committees, including nonpartisan groups. Percentages to Democrats and Republicans are based only on partisan contributions:
A few players also managed to hang with the Allen and Kraft in terms of contributions to Democratic causes: namely, Bengals safety Gibril Wilson, who contributed $15,000, exclusively to Democrats, and Dhani Jones, the former Bengals linebacker and current free agent who also hosts his own Travel Channel show, who has given $25,200 since January 2009, strictly to Democrats.
But for the most part NFL players, despite an average salary of $1.9 million, make up relatively little of the NFL-related political contributions.
Some other notable players who’ve contributed to federal candidates since 2009 include:
- Peyton Manning, the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, who donated $5,000 to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
- Julius Peppers, a defensive end for the Chicago Bears, who donated $2,400 to Kevin Powell, a Democratic candidate in New York’s 10th Congressional District.
- Brett Favre, the now-retired, long-time quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, donated $2,400 to Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), who lost in November. (Favre’s wife Deanna also donated $2,400 to Taylor’s unsuccessful campaign.)
Then there’s the NFL and the NFL Players Association, both of which play the Washington game, spending thousands each year lobbying the federal government.
As is often the case in business versus labor battles, the NFL, the business side, has had the deeper pockets. During the first six months of 2011, the league has spent $820,000 on lobbying versus the players union’s $120,000.
But last year, as the two butted heads and a lockout loomed, they spent record levels on lobbying.
The players union appealed to Congress to intervene and both sides lobbied on issues such as federal antitrust laws and the league’s television and equipment contracts.
All that added up to big lobbying bills: the NFL spent $1.4 million and the NFLPA $450,000 in 2010 — more than either group had spent in any previous year.
To further advance its interest, last year the NFL spread the money around like a prolific offense using its political action committee, Gridiron PAC.
The PAC, which was formed in 2008, donated more than $505,000 to federal candidates during the 2010 election cycle after not spending a dime in 2008. Of that sum, 59 percent benefited Democrats and 41 percent aided Republicans. Overall, 98 House candidates and 31 Senate candidates received money from the NFL’s PAC during the 2010 election cycle.
Powerful legislators, such as then-House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) were among the politicians to receive the legal maximum in terms of donations.
The PAC also sent a $30,000 a piece to the Democratic and Republican senatorial campaign committees and $20,000 a piece to the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees, according to the Center’s research.
This election cycle, the Gridiron PAC is continuing to spend at significant levels.
During the first six months of 2011, the PAC donated $168,500 to federal candidates, including $10,000 to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) — who has so far been the only candidate to receive the $10,000 legal maximum from the group.
The NFL’s PAC has also so far donated $15,000 a piece to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, National Republican Campaign Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Center for Responsive Politics senior researcher Doug Weber contributed to this report.