Election 2020 – How the NFL’s Gridiron PAC uses influence in Washington

Editor’s note : It is part of a six-part series that shows how professional sports owners in the United States contribute to political campaigns, why they spend millions in space, and what this financial strength means if athletes stay active in their own sports campaigns.

In 2007. Roger Gooddell faced challenges as an NFL commissioner a year ago, and those issues have been of concern to Washington lawmakers: health care and retirement of players who have been the subject of congressional hearings, steroid use in all sports, the league’s non-profit status, and exemption from the antitrust laws in broadcasting.

Goodell, son of a former American senator, tried to increase the political influence of the competition. It has stepped up its lobbying efforts and increased NFL spending to over $1 million for the first time this year. He opened an office in Washington and hired Jeff Miller as his first full-time lobbyist. A year later, Goodell donated $5,000 and Joe Brown, a former league official, donated $2,500. The NFL borrowed the game from a large League baseball team and formed its own political action committee, the Gridiron PAC.

Since then, the league has kept its office, has continued to work with lobbying companies and has reached 7-digit figures in its lobbying activities every year, except in 2017. It will return at the same pace this year.

We wanted representation, said Brian McCarthy, NFL vice president of communications. The NFL has evolved from small companies to larger companies with such a cultural impact on America that we have had to strengthen our presence.

Over the past 12 years, the League has used PAC as the first part of a two-way approach to influence Capitol Hill. The CAP enables organisations and companies to give money to political candidates, which companies are not allowed to do directly. The contribution of Gridiron PAC is made in the hope of getting a hearing with these legislators to discuss the interests of the League in their lobbying activities.

The NFL is America’s most powerful sports federation and perhaps the most protected. Your goals can be opaque or unexpected; they can evolve and change. But the way the Gridiron PAC works – and who sets its agenda – gives an idea of Goodell’s NFL scores at any given time and how they are influenced at the highest levels.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Colt owner Jim Irsai of Indianapolis is chairman of the League legislative committee, which is one of the groups that decides how Gridiron PAC spends its money. Andy Lyon/Getty Pictures

The NFL was the first sports federation to create the PAC. Since 2002, the Bavarian Baseball Club has been involved in political activities in the office of the commissioner of the political action committee of the Oberliga Baseball.

But football was the biggest donor. In the 2019-20 congressional campaign cycle, the NFL allocated $2.33 million to lobbying, according to Senate lobbying reports, and gave $480,000 to campaigns, parties and other PACs, according to the latest ESPN League figures. By comparison, according to reports from the Center for Responsible Policy and Lobbying in the Senate, MLB spent $2.17 million on lobbying and $220,000 on supporting federal parties and campaigns.

This really helps to ensure what the NFL and MLB are asking the federal government to do, said Craig Holman, government lobbyist for Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer protection organization. It’s not a record price. It’s not like the Chamber of Commerce, but the NFL and the MLB, they have a very limited focus on what they want to influence in government policy.

It’s not that they wanted to change the whole economy. They only want to focus on their own sport. It’s not that small.


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The NFL generates over $9 billion a year. It operates its own network, has contracts with four major broadcasting networks (ABC/ESPN, NBC, Fox and CBS) and in recent years has become active in the field of streaming services and technical companies. It also conducts labour negotiations for the shipping sector.

Gridiron PAC funds are raised through league power brokers – owners, dignitaries and relatives of at least 21 teams, including Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons and Martha Ford of the Detroit Lyons, former owner of the Detroit Lyons. Other members of the group have also made donations to CAP, often for amounts less than the $5,000 limit allowed by federal law that year. The Cowboys and Falcons had managers in the C trials as PAC donors, including recently fired head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitrov.

The decision as to who receives money from the PAC is made by a combination of owners, Division employees, including lobbyists working for the NFL, and the Division’s Legislative Committee, led by Indianapolis Colt owner Jim Isaac.

Since 2010, Gridiron PAC has made a significant contribution to the work of the members of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Trade and the U.S. House Committee on Justice, based on data from the lists of the Center for Responsible Policies and the Congressional Committee.

The Commission for Energy and Trade is one of the main groups responsible for monitoring athletics.

In 2015, six years after Goudell testified before the House Judiciary Commission on Brain Injury, the Energy and Commerce Commission asked Congress to conduct a study to determine whether the NFL was trying to influence the National Institutes of Health’s study on football and brain disease. The 91 page report concludes that the union has illegally interfered in something that has long been a pattern of attempts to influence shaker studies. The NFL challenged the findings of the report when it was released.

According to the Center for Responsible Politics, Gridiron PAC made contributions to 45 of the 54 members of the House’s Energy and Trade Committee for the 2016 election cycle, either to the candidate or to the PAC, totalling nearly $225,000.

In many cases [the concessions] are a response to members of Congress showing interest in aspects of our business that affect their constituents, said NFL’s McCarthy, as well as the welfare of society as a whole.

In the Senate, the largest amounts allocated by PAK Gridiron are exempt, depending on the cycle between the members of the Justice, Finance, Military Affairs, Credit and Health, Education and Labour Committees. Trade is also generally high.

The goal is to really use the money to make it more accessible to members of Congress and, more importantly, to members of Congress holding senior positions in the Senate or House of Representatives, said Jen Heerwig, associate professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, who researches campaign funding. This is a very, very typical strategy for corporate CAPs. Gridiron and Big League Baseball CAPs are kind of classic access oriented CAP players in the way they distribute their contributions.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Eric Reed is one of four players who contributed US$5,000 in November 2017 to help the National Football League Players’ Association form a PAC team. Jacob Coopferman/Getty Pictures

TRIDIRON PAC started the 2010 cycle with campaign contributions, with contributions generally going more to Republicans in presidential election cycles and more to Democrats in intermediate cycles, although there are no major differences between the parties.

Herwig noted that Gridiron PAC has focused on leadership donations, including at least $5,000 in recent cycles to Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Stanie Heuer, as well as Republicans Kevin McCarthy and Fred Upton, former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

According to Brendan Quinn, Head of Community Relations at the Center for Responsible Policy, this situation is, in a way, ubiquitous. I mean, they don’t really prefer one side over the other. The MLB supports the Democrats a little. The NFL supports the Republicans a little.

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But they’re not very prejudiced.

According to the latest data provided by the NFL to ESPN, the League gave $241,000 to the Democrats and $239,000 to the Republicans in Congress during the 2019-20 election cycle.

These contributions help to create opportunities for lobbying, and this year the union is focusing its resources on fighting a crisis that affects all companies. Senate lobbying documents show that Kenneth Edmonds, one of the NFL’s full-time lobbyists, discussed pandemic insurance with the House of Representatives in the third quarter of 2020.

McCarthy said that the league’s government liaison office worked with local authorities and health workers this summer to reopen facilities and stadiums when the necessary permits were granted.

But interests and efforts have varied over the years. One of the first issues the NFL has tried to influence since the creation of the CAP was the issue of Internet sports betting and gambling, part of the original lobby to protect the ban on online gambling.

We want to preserve the integrity of the game, and the game threatens that, said NFL’s Miller in an interview with the Associated Press in 2009.

Lobbying around gambling eventually became a call for regulation. In 2018, NFL lobbyist Jocelyn Moore presented nine points of regulation in her testimony before the House of Representatives Justice Subcommittee after the Supreme Court struck the law protecting professional and amateur sport. This decision has paved the way for the legalisation of gambling by States.

At the moment, the competition is mainly concerned with sports betting, and this year it includes several teams, including the Las Vegas Raiders, the Denver Broncos, the Colts and the Lions, and even attracts official partners.

Prior to the establishment of the FACA, the NFL tried to take action in relation to the September 11 attacks. September to impose special airspace restrictions – and received them. The NFL has recently used its lobbying skills to discuss concerns about drones and the physical safety of fans attending games, McCarthy said, successfully promoting regulation.

We don’t need fans and armed drones in the stadiums, he said. They’re not cameras or drones. This is a threat to physical security.

But it’s not just the NFL leadership that wants a vote in Washington. Professional footballers also wanted to gain influence after seeing the goal of Gridiron PAC, the National Association of Football League Players who founded a PAC team in 2016 after a vote by players’ representatives.

According to the Federal Election Commission, the first donations were received in November 2017, with 1,324 contributions from players and employees ranging from $225 to $5,000. An NFLPA spokesman said the federation has made more than 90 percent of its players available since the formation of the single-team CAP, which remains the only one among major sports federations.

The NFLPA PAC does not have the same financial strength as the Gridiron PAC – a team spent $420,000 on lobbying and $67,500 on campaign contributions for the 2019-20 cycle, according to the FEC and Senate report on lobbying – but its existence is a reminder that players want to be heard on issues that matter to them, such as tax reform to avoid double taxation when playing in different states, player safety, employment issues, and name, image and likeness issues.

For example, the NFL and the trade union support managers in their various pay positions, but sometimes their interests overlap – because both argue for a reform of criminal law.

They may not always agree with each other, but the NFL and the NFLPA have the same goal in Washington: to offer a place at the table.

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