Sports teams like to make news off the field donating their time and money to causes we can all support like visiting sick children in the hospital or helping the less fortunate find a home. When sports teams make headlines for things like supporting a political cause, it is usually by accident. It is almost certainly an accident when headlines surround a team supporting one political candidate over another.
The Arizona Cardinals owners, the Bidwills are no strangers to political daliances. The Bidwills have quietly been leading donors to some of Arizona's most well known Republican politicians including Senator John McCain. What makes the story of the Arizona Cardinals football team donating $5,000 to a Political Action Committee (PAC) that supports Arizona Governor Jan Brewer interesting is that it is something that simply hasn't been done before. What makes this even more interesting is that the path that the Cardinals have blazed could lead to more professional sports teams supporting their candidates with what is essentially taxpayer money.
When teams like the Miami Marlins want a new stadium, team ownership tends to turn to the taxpayers almost on instinct. They do this because they can almost always count on getting their way with this approach. The practice of having state subsidies, tax breaks and public financing is so prevalent that it hardly makes headlines any more. The difference that may be arising after the Cardinals situation is that the money these teams are saving by having the taxpayers foot the bills for their shiny new stadiums could be getting funneled to political candidates a large portion of the fan base do not support. Imagine if the company you worked for told you that you would have to forgo your annual raise because your boss wanted to donate to Mitt Romney's or Barack Obama’s campaign instead. In years past, that hypothetical seemed nonsensical, but the Cardinals may have opened the door to that scenario.
The most obvious clash between a team’s desire to get public funding and their own political leanings comes in the form of the Chicago Cubs. Joe Ricketts is a Tea Party big-wig who recently made headlines when stories circulated about an especially hard-hitting attack ad his super PAC, the Ending Spending Action Fund, was considering running. Super PACs running attack ads are nothing new, so what caused this particular ad to make headlines? Joe Ricketts is the father of Tom Ricketts, who in turn is the public face of Chicago Cubs ownership. While Tom is considered the majority owner of the team, it was Papa Joe’s money that made the purchase of the Cubs possible in the first place.
Still not seeing the problem? One of the key principals of Joe’s super PAC is keeping the government from spending money that would add to the public debt: “We believe our elected representatives must end the practice of mortgaging the economic futures of our children and grandchildren to pay for present-day spending.” Despite Mr. Ricketts' stated preference for responsible government spending, the Cubs are asking the City of Chicago for taxpayer funds to spruce up their home stadium, Wrigley Field. The Ricketts family is asking for $150 million of taxpayer funds to be exact. While I am a fan of making sure that American citizens are able to spend their money the way they want to, (within reason) I have a bit of a problem when they start spending public money to lobby against the public’s interest. For now, the Cubs have not done this, but it appears that is only because they haven’t gotten the public money they are looking for. Considering that Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s former Chief of Staff) is the mayor of Chicago, the Ricketts’ plan looks dead on arrival.
The question still remains, if the Arizona Cardinals, who also had their new stadium partially funded by taxpayer money can deem to spend some of their cash on political campaigns, then just how far will this go? With the line now blurred between politics and sports in a way that it has never been blurred before, what is the next step? Will we see it coming?