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POLITICS: PennAve

Political football: NFL owners spend big on campaigns and PACs

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NFL,Redskins,Elliot Smilowitz,Campaign Finance,2010 Elections,2012 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve

The Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles will face off in a season-opening game Monday night, another chapter in the cities' rivalry. But off the gridiron, the teams' owners have been butting heads in the field of politics for years.

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has given nearly $100,000 to GOP campaigns and groups since 2009. His Eagles counterpart, Jeffrey Lurie, has contributed nearly $20,000 to Democratic causes in the same timeframe.

Snyder and Lurie are two of 27 NFL team owners who have been financially active in politics in the Obama era, according to a Washington Examiner analysis of federal campaign finance data.

Some, like Woody Johnson of the New York Jets and Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins, have given hundreds of thousands of their own dollars. Others, including longtime Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, gave only a small amount to one campaign.

Data for the Examiner's analysis was culled from OpenSecrets.org, the website of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Donation totals may not be complete; it's not difficult for a wealthy person to obscure political contributions by donating in a state where he has a secondary residence or giving money in the name of a family member. Unless otherwise stated, donation totals cover the start of 2009 to late August of this year.

Take a look at this graphic to see how the team owners stack up, then scroll down for seven key takeaways from the data:

1. Republican donors outnumber Democratic donors about 3-to-2

Half of the 32 NFL teams have an owner who largely contributes to Republicans. Another 10 donate primarily to Democrats. One owner, Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts, has a mixed record. The owners of the Raiders, Lions, Buccaneers and Broncos have no record of political contributions, and the Green Bay Packers are community-owned.

2. But the GOP donors throw their money around much more

The owners who lean Republican account for more than 90 percent of political contributions by owners. The GOP donors averaged about $299,000 given per owner, while owners who gave mostly to Democrats contributed an average of about $32,000.

But one man heavily skews the numbers.

3. Most of that comes from Houston Texans owner Bob McNair

McNair, who has owned the Texans since the NFL awarded a team to him in 1999, has an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion. He has donated $3.4 million since 2009, most of it going to pro-Mitt Romney super PACs in the final weeks of the 2012 election cycle. His contributions account for almost two-thirds of all political donations from NFL team owners.

If you remove McNair, the other GOP-leaning owners have donated slightly less than $96,000 on average, which still dwarfs the Democrats' average, but not by nearly as much.

4. Teams owned by GOP donors are in a surprising Super Bowl slump

Only one of the last 12 Super Bowl winners was helmed by a Republican-supporting owner: the New Orleans Saints in 2010, owned by Tom Benson.

In that span, the biggest Democratic donor in the NFL, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, has three Super Bowl rings, and Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was appointed ambassador of Ireland by President Obama for his campaigning, has two rings. Two more Dem-leaning owners — Steve Tisch of the Giants and Steve Bisciotti of the Ravens — account for three more championships, giving eight of the last 12 Lombardi Trophies to owners who lean left. (Tisch co-owns the Giants with John Mara, who has no donation history.) The other three in that span went to teams whose owners have no partisan donation history.

5. Political activity does not correlate with team success

Some teams that have big-contributing owners, such as the Jets, Dolphins, Chargers, Cardinals and Browns, were major disappointments last year. But big-spending McNair's Texans made their second straight playoffs last year, their 12-4 record the third best in the entire NFL. The owners of the Redskins, Patriots, Vikings, Seahawks, Falcons, Bengals and Colts, among the bigger political spenders, all saw their teams go to last year's playoffs.

On the other side, not donating much has been good to the owners of the Broncos, Packers and 49ers, all of which went deep into the playoffs, and the Super Bowl-winning Ravens. But avoiding politics hasn't helped the owners of Raiders, Lions or Titans, teams that have little recent success.

6. Outspoken liberals Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo had similar politics to their team owners

 
Ayanbadejo, a special teamer and linebacker with the Ravens, gained notoriety for his outspoken support of same-sex marriage last year as Marylanders debated a ballot item on approving the unions. Maryland State Del. Emmett C. Burns, a Democrat, publicly ripped Ayanbadejo for his stance, asking the Ravens to "take the necessary action ... to inhibit such expressions from your employee." Kluwe, a longtime punter for the Vikings, also advocated for same-sex marriage and publicly feuded with other NFL players who were not sufficiently pro-union during the NFL's 2011 labor dispute.

Both players were released by their teams this offseason, and some around the league wondered whether politics played a role. But the Ravens' owner, Steve Bisciotti, has donated to Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a supporter of gay marriage, and the Vikings' owner, Zigi Wilf, has given almost $50,000 to various Democratic groups.

7. The same can be said for conservatives Philip Rivers and Nick Mangold

 
Rivers, the longtime quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, endorsed Rick Santorum in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, writing in March of that year:

I am supporting Rick Santorum for President because of his stance on issues that attack vital Christian values our country was founded upon: no abortion, upholding traditional marriage, defending religious freedom, no euthanasia.

Mangold, an offensive lineman for the Jets, campaigned for Mitt Romney, introducing him at events in Mangold's home state of Ohio.

Both players work for owners that are presumably happy about their political stance. Alex Spanos of the Chargers gave over $120,000 to Republican causes, and Woody Johnson of the Jets not only contributed over $215,000 to the GOP but campaigned and raised funds for Romney.

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Elliot Smilowitz

Senior Web Producer and Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner