The U.S. House turned back an effort to ban Pentagon recruiters from spending millions on NASCAR teams and sports events.
An amendment that would have prohibited the military from spending $72.3 million on sponsorships was defeated on a bipartisan vote of 202 to 216.
NASCAR, the National Football League and National Basketball Association lobbied against the proposal. It pitted lawmakers who said they were trying to cut wasteful spending against some members from southern states where race car driving is popular.
“When we start micromanaging advertising programs that try to recruit National Guard members, we’ve sort of slipped into the absurd,” said North Carolina Republican Patrick McHenry. “This is a huge return for the buck. This is why Fortune 500 companies actually advertise through NASCAR.”
Republicans and Democrats who opposed the amendment said it could increase costs for the Pentagon. If unable to recruit through sports, the military would have to pay more in bonuses to recruit and retain personnel, they said.
The proposal was offered by Georgia Republican Jack Kingston and Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum.
“This program has no accountability,” Kingston said. “We can spend this money a lot better than we are today.”
The Army announced earlier this month that it wouldn’t continue sponsoring a NASCAR team after this year, saying the spending can’t be justified.
“It doesn’t work and that’s why the Army has dropped it,” McCollum said.
The National Guard spent $136 million between fiscal 2008 and 2012 to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 NASCAR racing car, McCollum said.
She said it would be “irresponsible and outrageous” for Congress to continue allowing the Pentagon to sponsor sports while cutting funding for services that aid struggling families and communities.
Earlier, NASCAR backers used a procedural move to remove similar language from the underlying bill, H.R. 5856, which would provide $608.2 billion for the Defense Department next year.
Sports marketing is the “most efficient tool” to reach potential recruits, the sports industry said in a July 16 letter to House leaders.
“As major companies and nonprofits know well, sports marketing is a unique opportunity to reach young adults,” the organizations wrote. “Given the success of the military’s use of professional sports to reach out to the American people, we encourage you to support the U.S. Armed Forces and enable them to continue to have the same access to media and venues as world leading businesses and nonprofits.”