Editor's Note: This is one of a series of six pieces that show how professional sports owners in America are contributing to political campaigns, why they are spending millions in space, and what that financial power means if athletes in all sports continue to adopt their own activism .
BILLIONS OF AVIATION OPERATIONS DIFFERENT from the rest of us. An avid young supporter of an insurgent candidate could send a $ 20 contribution to a campaign, but those with large fortunes cut checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars to national political parties and partisan super-PACs. That's enough to cover a market like Cincinnati or Raleigh with TV ads for a few days.
While LeBron James appeared in a Cleveland rally for Hillary Clinton in 2016, NBA owners put millions, directly and indirectly, into the campaigns of her and her opponent Donald Trump. One can discuss the effectiveness of free media attention in the context of an event with someone with James' credit, but cash can be used to buy material resources for a national campaign. Money, as the saying goes, is the breast milk of politics.
The NBA has long had a place in high-profile American politics. Larry O & # 39; Brien, the namesake of the trophy presented to the Los Angeles Lakers in October, served as the NBA commissioner in the twilight of his professional career. He is most notable as a political leader in John F. Kennedy's campaign, Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide victory, and Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 bid for the presidency, who then served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Herb Kohl was a US Senator for 24 years while he owned the Milwaukee Bucks. Between 1989 and his death that year, former NBA commissioner David Stern made more than $ 2 million in individual contributions to Democratic candidates for federal office and party committees. For years, NBA owners like Larry Weinberg and Abe Pollin have been leading, high-profile donors to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. According to a study by ESPN and FiveThirtyEight, NBA owners today donate an average of more than $ 4 million per federal election cycle to candidates ranging from the left to the right pole of the political spectrum.
These voting papers sometimes provide more questions than answers. Why was Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf the biggest contributor to Montana Senator Jon Tester and his Republican challenger Matt Rosendale in 2018? Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Houston Rockets, gave Arizona Senator Martha McSally on her unsuccessful re-election bid. So why is he supporting her opponent in this cycle, Democrat Mark Kelly, for $ 15,400 (including a $ 10,000 donation to the Arizona Democratic Party)? ? Why did Herb Simon, owner of Indiana Pacers, contribute to Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Hillary Clinton, who all ran for the same office in 2016?
We can learn a lot about a donor from their political donation history, often even from their motivation to make a contribution at all. And when it comes to the billionaire class running professional sports franchises, these posts aren't always what they seem.
Micky Arison, owner of Miami Heat, has one of the most interesting political fundraising stories in the NBA. Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The business donor
MIAMI HEAT OWNER Micky Arison is a cruise titan who has served as Carnival Corporation's chairman and CEO for decades. Even after selling nearly $ 1 billion worth of Carnival stock about six years ago, the Arisons still hold nearly a quarter in the company.
Arison has one of the most interesting political fundraising stories in the NBA. He has contributed to the most conservative Republicans and the most liberal Democrats. He gives large sums of money to both Republican and Democratic party committees who fight each other to win majorities. He will donate to a congressman, then reverse the next election cycle and donate to the challenger who beat him.
Delve deeper into Arison's record and some insightful patterns will reveal itself. Each election cycle, Arison contributes to Bob Gibbs, an Ohio congressman from a largely rural, certainly Republican district whose largest body of water is a small reservoir that covers a modest 1,350 acres in the summer months. These posts make more sense considering that Gibbs is the senior minority member of the Coast Guard's House Transportation and Maritime Transportation subcommittee that oversees cruise lines.
In addition to his $ 2,000 donation to Gibbs, Arison has generously passed this cycle on to senior members of their respective committees in the House and Senate. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, who chaired the committee when the Democrats won the house, received $ 5,400 from Arison. In the Senate, Republican Roger Wicker (chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation) received $ 5,550 while Maria Cantwell (the senior Democrat) received $ 2,500.
What's behind the seemingly random $ 1,500 check that Arison wrote to the Hawaii Democratic Party's PAC? This is the PAC under the leadership of Brian Schatz, a young Democratic Senator who is considered by politicians to be one of the most fluid lawmakers on the hill on all matters relating to the cruise industry (Schatz has received money for cruise lines dating back to his lieutenant governor's days in Hawaii ).
"Arison is the cruise industry and he is very strategic," wrote Ross Klein, professor and expert on cruise lines, in his book "Cruise Ship Squeeze".
Search the lists of committee members in both houses, and there's a very good chance their campaigns have received donations from Arison, be it Liberal Democrat and civil rights star Elijah Cummings or right-wing Republican Randy Weber, who is President Barack Obama as a "socialist." Dictator "and" Commander in Chief "shortly before the speech of the Union State in 2014 before the Congress. Even non-voting member Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands received $ 10,200 from Arison and his wife Madeleine during this cycle. (Micky Arison was the only donor that Plaskett made maximum available for both the primaries and general elections). Carnival also offers eight-day cruises to the US Virgin Islands.
Since no Carnival fleet operates under the US flag and is largely subject to international maritime law, the regulatory authority of Congress is somewhat restricted. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Coast Guard have the final say on whether or not cruise lines can pick up passengers. Still, lawmakers can make regulations annually that could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the bottom line of the industry.
For example, in 2010, Congress passed the Cruise Ships and Safety Act, which requires cruise lines to report onboard crimes, missing passengers and suspicious deaths to the Coast Guard and the FBI. The ships also had to retrofit cabin doors with safety bolts and peepholes, carry rape kits for potential victims and have a trained forensic attack specialist on board. Congress also regulates waste streams discharged from ships and disembarkation procedures for cruise lines docking in the US – and who pays for them. Most recently, the cruise ship was a lightning rod in negotiations over COVID-19 aid. Many members of Congress refused to give money to cruise line operators deliberately based outside the United States.
Since many owners have real estate empires, their political contributions are often directed at local candidates. Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to federal candidates – the vast majority to Republicans and a handful of New York and New Jersey Democrats – and he's also an active donor in local elections, some in the distance. from cities. Ross & # 39; Real Estate Development Company Related has massive, high profile projects across the country, and where to find these buildings are some posts for mayoral candidates.
Rahm Emanuel received $ 60,000 from Ross during Emanuel's tenure as Mayor of Chicago, where Related owns a dozen properties. This trend continues across the country: both Ross and Equinox, which Ross also owns, have entered the mayor and city council races in Los Angeles, while Gavin Newsom and Adrian Fenty have made contributions during their tenure as mayors of San Francisco and Canada Washington received from Ross each.
For companies like Carnival and Related, it's important to have a seat at the table when new laws and regulations are being discussed.
Politically, Magic owner Dan DeVos is a fundamental Republican Party donor. Fernando Medina / NBAE via Getty Images
The ideological giver
ORLANDO MAGICAL OWNER Dan DeVos comes from one of America's archconservative royal families. In 1959, DeVos' father Richard co-founded Amway, a multi-tier marketing company, and grew it into a billion dollar empire. Richard bought the Magic in 1991 for $ 85 million and died in 2018. Dan took on the role of Magic's representative on the Board of Governors of the NBA in 2011.
As Rich DeVos amassed his fortune, he became a generous donor to the country's burgeoning right-wing religious movement. He made a personal contribution of $ 25,000 in 1975 to be a leading benefactor of the Christian Freedom Foundation, an organization that told Christianity Today readers, "Our country was founded on a certain harmony of values brought about by our Christian Heritage to be Preserved … It is time for responsible Christians to participate in the affairs of the state. "
The elder DeVos served twice as president of the Council for National Policy, an organization founded in 1981 by author and fundamentalist Christian leader Tim LaHaye to bring together prominent right-wing voices from Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schlafly to Ed Meese and Paul Weyrich.
In addition to donating tens of millions of dollars to Michigan civic organizations, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation made substantial donations to anti-gay organizations such as Focus on the Family and Family Research Council. Dan DeVos' sister-in-law is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who was a lightning rod in the culture wars that raged during the Trump administration.
Research has shown that parents who are more politicized tend to father children who accept their political affiliation, and Dan DeVo's record of political contributions would suggest so.
"From an early age my brothers, sister, and I were taught by our parents that being involved in the political process is an important responsibility for all Americans, and that has been with me all my life," Dan DeVos told ESPN.
Recipients of most of the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation money in 2018 include DeVos Alma Mater, Northwood University, Grand Valley State University, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Grand Rapids Art Museum.
Politically, however, Dan DeVos is a fundamental, high-dollar giver to the Republican Party. During the current election cycle, DeVos has contributed $ 200,000 each to a PAC that was set up to elect Republicans to the House. America First Action, a prominent super PAC for Donald Trump; as well as a single candidate Super PAC in support of Senatorial nominee John James of Michigan. In addition, DeVos put 13 of the 20 seated Republican senators up for re-election in November and gave nearly $ 200,000 to committees working to maintain a Republican majority in the upper chamber.
DeVos said his donation was "driven by a desire to advance opportunities for all, preserve and improve individual freedoms for all, and promote a fair and open economy that rewards hard work, promotes innovation, and promotes the vital value of everyone." acknowledges. "
DeVos will support non-Republicans on rare occasions where the party cannot put forward a competitive candidate, such as the non-partisan race for Orlando mayor. The PAC, which supports longtime incumbent Mayor Democrat Buddy Dyer, received $ 50,000 from DeVos, more than any other person or organization. (The PAC also received $ 45,000 from Disney Worldwide Services, a subsidiary of ESPN's parent company that ranks second after DeVos.)
On the other end of the political spectrum, Laura Ricketts, co-owner of Chicago Cubs, has compiled the most progressive list of political donations for professional athletes, which is an extreme departure from the rest of her family. One of Ricketts' brothers, Todd, is the current Chief Financial Officer of the RNC, and their brother Pete is the Republican governor of Nebraska.
Laura Ricketts founded LPAC, a PAC advocating for LGBTQ women and to which she has contributed more than $ 1 million over the last three election cycles. She gave $ 35,500 to the DNC that year and $ 300,000 to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. She is an avid supporter of federal office candidates, contributing more than $ 100,000 to a super PAC that supports women applying for federal office.
Both of today's major political parties are powered by true believers who are deeply committed to a gospel that preaches their vision of what Americans should look like. There are few things more powerful in political life than belief in this belief, which is backed by billions of dollars.
Marc Lasry was a humble political giver until 2004. Gary Dineen / NBAE / Getty Images
The personal giver
There is a third one Group of contributors driven by less specific motivations. Some of them are social beings who enjoy the company of other power brokers, while others are interested in the game of politics, like you might do in NBA basketball.
The opportunity to play golf with a former president can be enough incentive to donate a meager amount to a person of extreme wealth. And some people say yes when asked to contribute because they value their relationship with the person who asks.
When examining an American sports owner's motivations, more than one, if not all, of these factors are likely to play a role. Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry is the epitome of the NBA's personal giver, whose combination of general political orientation and social inclinations makes him a member of the Democratic Party's elite circles.
One hedge fund manager, Lasry, who along with Arison refused to comment on this story, is not an ideologue, but he is an immigrant from Morocco who has stated that he appreciates the Democratic Party's overarching creed that the government should should actively help in need.
Lasry was a relatively humble donor who limited his $ 2,000 contributions largely to New York Democrats and various others, including Rahm Emanuel's Congressional campaign in Chicago until he made his first $ 25,000 checks to the Senate and House committees in the summer of 2004 Democrats wrote. His close friendship with Emanuel deepened his ties to the party's center of power and, accordingly, his financial support for its candidates. There is a mutual benefit: like any major politician, Emanuel has fundraising as an unofficial job, and Lasry has to satisfy that need for a friend.
Celebrity donors and powerful politicians often become friends for what Hanukkah parties at the White House and rounds of golf on Martha's Vineyard mean. If you walk into a large party donor's office or home, there's a good chance you can find a framed photo of him or her with a president or senator.
Lasry's deep commitment to the Democratic Party goes well beyond the health care debate or the composition of the Supreme Court.
In the course of time, politicians called him to get advice on the economic landscape. He started attending high dollar events regularly and became one of the few who can say in 2012 that he hosted a dinner at his house that was attended by both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. On more than one occasion, Clinton courted Lasry at a Bucks game in Milwaukee and Brooklyn.
Party bigwigs end up hitting almost every aspiring politician, which means they can expect (or hope) to be beaten for the candidate's contribution. During Democratic Elementary School 2020, Lasry gave money to Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Pete Buttigieg. Lasry was less faded than a long-time party fixture that was a friend or acquaintance of several candidates.
Personal relationships are central to this type of political giving. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, made his first contribution to a single candidate campaign in more than five years when he donated $ 15,000 to the PAC to support hopeful 32-year-old Congressman Jake Auchincloss. Why? Possibly because the candidate's mother is the CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Kraft's wife, Myra, died in July 2011, more than a year after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the family donated millions of dollars to the institute, which they generously cared for. What one critic might call cynical scratching back could be termed material support for a person who shares a common cause.
Some of the biggest party donors are hobbyists who like the action, while others like to have their proverbial name on the wall of a long-standing American institution like a major political party. Some are here for real estate porn – which, in a donation community, means taking advantage of the lure of a posh home to attract potential donors. Some enjoy the ego gratification that comes with exclusive company, while others are just returning a favor for a friend who has supported their philanthropic endeavor.
As long as money funds America's political parties and their politicians, people with money will be close by.