If Political Contributions Predict Super Bowl Odds, Seahawks Have the Edge

Photo by Andrew Tat.Licensed CC-BY-SA.
Photo by Andrew Tat.
Licensed CC-BY-SA.

by Clark Mindock

If writing checks to politicians and political causes is any indicator of how well a team will do in a Super Bowl, the Seahawks should start dusting off this year’s Vince Lombardi trophy — but it’s not going to be a blowout.

Really, it would come down to a battle between the owners, and it would be close — very close. According to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis, Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen would win the MVP award, putting in a valiant and nearly single-handed effort. In the last two cycles, Allen, a billionaire, has donated $68,900 to candidates and political committees — $31,900 to Democrats, $32,000 to Republicans and the remainder to the NFL’s Gridiron PAC. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a wealthy man himself (though not on Allen’s level), has donated $64,096 over the same four years. Interestingly, for a man who has hosted Rush Limbaugh in the owner’s box and attended the conservative talk radio icon’s latest wedding, Kraft gave only $2,600 of that to a Republican recipient, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), in April 2014. Kraft did not give to the NFL’s PAC at all.

But unfortunately for Allen, he is pretty much on his own in this particular version of the game. The only other individual affiliated with the Seahawks that CRP could identify as having made political donations larger than $200 in the past two cycles was a single player, Russell Okung. Okung made one contribution of $500 to President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. Okung, an offensive tackle, was also the only current player on either team to make a political contribution.

That’s it for Seahawk political giving.

Kraft has a bit more help. His son, Jonathan Kraft, for instance, gave $5,200 to the re-election campaign of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in 2013. A top executive and his family also made donations, bringing the organization’s total to $82,571.

Despite the close — and not huge — numbers, the league itself is all tangled up in the political influence game. Gifts from people associated with the NFL flowed a bit more freely and clearly favored Republicans overall in 2014 and 2012.

Republicans received $150,300 from that group, according to CRP data, and Democrats received $89,656. League Commissioner Roger Goodell contributed to just one candidate in 2014, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and two candidates in 2012, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and former Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.). His combined donations over the two cycles were just $6,600.

The league’s PAC, Gridiron PAC, raised $895,000 in 2014, but had spent only 62.5 percent of that by the end of November. The league favored Republicans over Democrats in the cycle, but by a bare $4,200, a relatively common formation in most PAC playbooks — they often favor the dominant party, but still try to court the underdogs. Team Blue received 49 percent of the $330,750 contributed to federal candidates in 2014, and Team Red picked up the difference.

In the House, Republicans won the coin toss, with both Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), now the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, catching big passes from Gridiron PAC, receiving contributions of $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.

Senate Democrats in 2014 did better than their House counterparts, though. While Republicans in the world’s greatest deliberative body reeled in $31,000 total from the PAC, Democrats took in $52,000. Still, the top two recipients were split: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) each received $10,000.

As for lobbying, last year the professional sports industry, as a whole, reached its highest levels of spending since 2009, laying out a total of $4.8 million — the third biggest lobbying year for the industry. One particular standout was the Washington Redskins football team, which reported lobbying for the first time — one indicator of the many scandals and controversies that impacted the league in 2014.

The franchise has been criticized recently for its name and mascot, which some communities find offensive and degrading to Native Americans. The controversy has sparked protests and boycotts across the country, including an announcement by the Washington Post that the paper’s editorial board would no longer refer to the football team by its name, and the suspension of a high school newspaper editor in Pennsylvania for refusing to print the word.

Citing “discussions of team origins, history and traditions” the team hiked $180,000 straight into the hands of lobbying firm McGuirewoods LLP to employ seven D.C. lobbyists, including a former member of Congress. Team owner Daniel Snyder has said that a name change would cost the franchise tens of millions of dollars a year — which makes that lobbying tally sound like a safer bet.

Speaking of betting, what did the NFL itself lobby on in 2014?

A number of issues pop up year after year, and sports betting came back again in 2014 alongside antitrust concerns, broadcast regulations, and performance enhancing drugs. The league also lobbied on a few specific bills. One would have revoked the league’s tax-exempt status; another would have directed the Consumer Product Safety Commission to evaluate sporting equipment safety standards.

Last year wasn’t the NFL’s biggest lobbying year on record, but it still threw down $1.2 million to influence the federal government, making it the biggest lobbying spender in the professional sports industry.

Originally published at OpenSecrets.org.

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