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The NFL’s Political Donors

We pulled the data to find out which candidates—and which political causes—the NFL’s owners, players, coaches, staffers and commissioner are supporting financially this election cycle.

It’s Election Day, and despite millions of voters having already cast their ballots, it still feels like anything could happen. Since 2000, the prime-time nature of our electoral system seems to align with that of a Seahawks game—a scattershot, nonsensical series of occurrences often leading to an ending that vacillates between pleasantly surprising and downright horrifying depending on your viewpoint.

For heavy hitters donating money, though, the significant lifting has already been done. They have placed their bets over the past two years and thanks to our (somewhat, maybe, sort of) transparent donor-reporting process, we can see a picture of where most of the NFL’s power players opted to spend their capital heading into arguably the most consequential presidential election in modern times.

For this year’s version, we combed through both owner donations and also donations made by anyone listing an NFL team as their primary employer. We were curious whether, given the league’s political awakening, money would shift dramatically from favoring one party to another, whether players would become more politically active donors, and which owners would emerge as political power players heading into the 2020 election. NFL owners are inherently political creatures given the nature of various stadium deals and other large-scale projects that require high-level grease and red-tape-cutting to get done.

But this was also the summer of George Floyd and the year of COVID-19. Issues of such a transcendent nature aren’t politicized in a healthy society, but in today’s U.S. two sides of an irreparable political chasm formed. The NFL, when hamstrung by its politically motivated player base, upped the ante on raising awareness for social justice issues and racial inequality. They also, by the mere act of operating during the pandemic, requiring coaches to wear masks and holding out players who tested positive for the virus, were unassumingly making political statements. To say their donations would be looked at through a finer lens in this cycle would be putting it lightly.

If I can editorialize for a moment: While I did not expect the President’s rhetoric regarding the NFL and its players—a flashpoint device he has used several times on the campaign trail—to alter the political leanings of owners, the donations do shed a light on what the league has become. I would imagine that if a sitting president had criticized the developing league or its players back in the '40s, '50s, '60s or '70s, we would not see a windfall of donations headed to his cause, or to the causes of the political party he leads. But the current ownership landscape consists of a group of wealthy businesspeople whose NFL ownership is often secondary to other interests. Indeed, we saw one team owner donate nearly a million dollars to Republican causes this cycle. That is not surprising, and we’ll refrain from claiming whether that’s good or bad; we’re simply acknowledging how far we’ve come from the league’s us-versus-them beginnings.

All data was gathered from OpenSecrets’ Donor Lookup tool, and we looked only at donations made since the 2018 midterm elections. Here are a few interesting tidbits off the top:

• The league’s most prolific political donors were as follows: Falcons owner Arthur Blank ($1,177,744), Dolphins owner Stephen Ross ($673,450), Jets absentee owner (and current U.S. ambassador to Great Britain) Woody Johnson ($354,400), Browns owners Jimmy Haslam ($319,200) and Dee Haslam ($341,600), Buccaneers chairman and co-owner Edward Glazer ($254,000), Panthers owner David Tepper ($205,000), Bengals owner Mike Brown ($106,900), Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill ($91,499), Vikings owner Zygi Wilf ($58,900), Chargers owner Dean Spanos ($53,750) and Patriots owner Robert Kraft ($51,200).

• Only three of the owners who donated more than $25,000 gave the majority to Democratic causes, candidates or political action committees (Blank, Wilf and Kraft).

• Among all people listing an NFL team as their primary employer donating directly to either of the main presidential candidates, Joe Biden outraised Donald Trump by a slight margin: $30,762 to $26,287 (not including a $2,800 donation made to Biden by NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith). Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker also received donations during Democratic primary season.

• One of the big winners in both large and small donations among NFL players, coaches, team staffers and owners was the WinRed PAC ($104,600 since the 2018 midterm elections). WinRed is the Republican counter to ActBlue, which facilitates grassroots online donors. (ActBlue received $840 from NFL donors.)

• Among the politicians who received a substantial boost from NFL owners via direct donations to the candidate or an associated PAC: Maine Sen. Susan Collins ($61,100), South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham ($27,400), Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst ($23,600) and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell ($17,337).

Graph of biggest political donors among NFL owners this election cycle

• The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which raised $120,950 from NFL team players, owners and staffers, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which brought in $165,800, were popular as well.

• Player participation was largely insignificant outside of one case: Raiders guard Richie Incognito donated a total of $27,999 to Republican causes, including $11,549 to Donald Trump, $8,400 to WinRed and $5,600 to Martha McSally, a senator from Arizona. Incognito donated more money this election cycle than 17 NFL owners.

• As far as the NFL and players association are concerned, Roger Goodell gave $5,400 to Rob Portman, a Republican junior Senator from Ohio, in a series of donations made in Dec. 2018. Jeff Pash, the league’s executive vice president and general council, donated $2,800 to Nancy Pelosi, Democratic representative from California and current speaker of the House, in September. And DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, donated $2,800 to Biden and $3,800 to the Democratic National Committee Services Corp. in September.

• In our list, we do not identify team staffers who we do not consider public figures—only owners, staff at the executive level, football operations staff, coaches and players are identified. For each owner, as well as for some high-profile staffers, players and coaches, we list some of their noteworthy partisan donations. Donations to the nonpartisan NFL and NFLPA PACs are included in our totals, but we did not list them in our highlighted donations.

Without further ado, here’s the list …

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• $1,000 to Kyrsten Sinema, Democratic senator, Arizona, 04-26-2019
• $11,200 to Lindsey Graham, Republican senator, South Carolina, 05-07-2019
• $2,800 to Dan Sullivan, Republican senator, Alaska, 06-03-2019
• $5,600 to Joni Ernst, Republican senator, Iowa, over a series of donations between 08-02-2019 and 08-09-2019
• $14,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, 10-10-2019
• $5,600 to Martha McSally, Republican senator, Arizona, in a series of donations made 10-10-2019
• $5,000 to Great America Committee, a Political Action Committee registered to Vice President Mike Pence, pledging to “support candidates and elected officials who fight with President Trump in making America great again.”
• $5,500 to Susan Collins, Republican senator, Maine, 11-08-2019, 11-10-2019
• $1,000 to Scott Taylor, Republican congressional candidate in Virginia’s 2nd district, 11-13-2019
• $2,500 to Greg Stanton, Democratic U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 9th congressional district, 11-22-2019
• $10,000 to the Republican Party of Kentucky on 11-30-2019
• $5,600 to Mitch McConnell, Republican senator and House Majority Leader from Kentucky, in a series of donations made 12-05-2019
• $1,137 to the Bluegrass Committee, a PAC established by Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell that distributes funds to House and Senate Republicans, 12-18-2019
• $4,999 to the Bluegrass Committee in a series of donations made 12-18-2019
• $5,600 to John James, Republican senatorial candidate, Michigan, 3-13-2020
• $2,800 to Thom Tillis, Republican senator, North Carolina, 3-31-2020
Total donations: $91,499
Republican: $87,999
Democrat: $3,500

• $500 to Jared Vanderdussen, Republican candidate for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District (lost in a primary in June).

Others: People listing “Arizona Cardinals” as their primary employer also donated $1,000 to WinRed, an “American Republican Party fundraising platform endorsed by the Republican National Committee,” and $1,000 to Anna Paulina Luna, the Republican nominee for Florida's 13th Congressional district, 05-28-2020 (offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert).

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• $2,800 to Lynne Homrich, Republican candidate for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District (lost primary 6-9-2020). 7-02-19
• $1,000,000 to the Senate Majority PAC, a political action committee “Solely dedicated to building a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.”
• $4,391 to the Democratic Party of Vermont, 10-09-2020
• $2,800 to Robert Franklin, a Democratic congressional candidate running in Georgia’s 5th district, 10-09-2020
• $10,935 to the Democratic State Central Committee of Louisiana, 9-11-2020, 07-01-2020
• $10,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee of Maryland on, 7-01-2020, 9-11-2020
• $10,000 to the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee, 9-09-2020
•$5,609 to the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, 07-01-2020
• $10,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia, 07-01-2020
• $5,609 to the New York State Democratic Committee, 07-01-2020
• $10,000 to the Georgia Federal Elections Committee
• $10,000 to the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party, 07-01-2020
• $5,000 to the Home Depot PAC, a bipartisan organization, 12-06-2019
• $36,000 to DNC Services Corp (Democratic National Committee) in a series of donations made 12-20-2019, 7-01-2020.
• $20,000 to the Democratic Party of Montana, 06-02-2020
• $11,200 to Steve Bullock, two-term Democratic Governor of Montana running for Senate, 6-02-2020
• $8,400 to Joe Biden, Democratic candidate for President, 6-08-2020
Total donations: $1,777,744
Republican: $2,800
Democrat: $1,154,944

Others: People listing Atlanta Falcons as their primary employers donated a total of $11,200 to Dave Lindstrom, a Republican senatorial candidate from Kansas and former Chiefs defensive lineman who finished fourth in the primaries (offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom, Dave Lindstrom’s nephew). Also, $250 to Nabilah Islam, Democratic congressional candidate for Georgia’s 7th district, $5,000 to David Perdue, Republican senator from Georgia, and an additional $1,250 to Lynne Homrich, Republican candidate for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.

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Owner Stephen Bisciotti had no donations listed, dating back to 2016.

Others: People listing “Baltimore Ravens” as their primary employer donated $3,500 to Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democratic congressman from the 2nd district of Maryland, $500 to WinRed PAC, an “American Republican Party fundraising platform endorsed by the Republican National Committee,” $1,000 to the Abolitionists PAC, a Democratic/Liberal Political Action Committee, $1,000 to The Action PAC, a Political Action Committee “building an unstoppable political organizing force to combat the rising tide of racism and bigotry in this country.” $2,000 to the Republican National Committee (defensive line coach Joe Cullen). Also, $1,000 to Anthony Brown, U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 4th congressional district, $1,000 to Elijah Cummings, longtime Democratic representative from Maryland’s 7th congressional district (team president Dick Cass).