Republican Mitt Romney’s favorite football team, headed by a donor to President Barack Obama’s re-election bid, faces a rival Oct. 21 owned by a top Romney fundraiser who’s said he would rather see his candidate than his team win.
The owners of the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, squads meeting with first place at stake in the American Football Conference’s Eastern Division, line up on opposite sides in the political arena as well as on the football field.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has given $5,000 -- the maximum allowed under federal election law -- to Obama. Jets owner Woody Johnson not only has funneled the same amount to Romney, he serves as the New York finance chairman for the former Massachusetts governor who is a Patriots’ fan.
Johnson told Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers” Oct. 1 he’s rooting more for a Romney victory than for his team to finish the season with a winning record.
“Well, I think you always have to put country first,” Johnson said. “So I think it’s very, very important, not only for us but in particular for our kids and grandkids, that this election come off” with Mitt Romney claiming the White House.
Among other owners of the 32 National Football League teams, Johnson’s leanings in the presidential race are more typical than Kraft’s.
The Atlanta Falcons’ Arthur Blank and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Dan Rooney, named by Obama in 2009 to be ambassador to Ireland, joined Kraft in donating to the president’s re-election campaign, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis and the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks campaign donations.
Eleven other owners aside from Johnson are Romney donors, including the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Washington Redskins’ Dan Snyder, whose teams otherwise are arch-enemies. The newest member of the owners club -- Jimmy Haslam III, whose purchase of the Cleveland Browns was approved by the league earlier this week, is another Romney contributor.
Relatives of owners who help run teams also are helping Romney. Arizona Cardinals’ owner Bill Bidwill and his son, Michael, have combined to contribute $7,500 to the Republican, and four members of the Spanos family, which owns the San Diego Chargers, have donated $11,000.
The total score, based on the most recent information on donations directly to the candidates from the NFL ownership ranks: Romney $63,500; Obama $12,500.
Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, gave $1 million to a super-political action committee that backs Romney and can accept unlimited individual donations. The contribution to Restore Our Future on Sept. 26 was McNair’s first to the group.
“These are all multimillionaires and billionaires,” said Michael Cramer, director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media at the University of Texas in Austin and a former president of the Texas Rangers baseball team and the Dallas Stars hockey franchise. “They are clearly supporting the party that will deliver best results as they see it from a tax-and-economy standpoint.”
Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman, declined a request for comment on the owner donations, saying, “It’s a personal matter.” Also declining comment was a spokesman for the Patriots, Stacey James.
Johnson, wearing a Jets cap, earlier this week was part of the team of Romney fundraisers and major donors attending a three-day retreat at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
“It’s just to thank everybody, to bring everybody up to speed in terms of what’s going on,” Johnson told reporters as he entered a dinner gala at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, where he later would see a video of Donald Trump telling Obama, “You’re fired!”
Romney “is really doing well,” Johnson said. “The crowds are enormous. We’re getting the kind of crowds Obama got last time” in the 2008 campaign.
As for any future role with Romney, he said, “I’m probably just going to raise money. That’s what they want me to do.”
Three other Jets executives, including general manager Mike Tannenbaum, each donated $2,500 to Romney.
Despite Johnson’s support, Romney declared his allegiance to the Jets’ division rivals in a September appearance on “Live,” the television program hosted by Kelly Ripa and former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan.
“Favorite football team?” Strahan asked as one of a series of rapid-fire questions.
“Sorry about that, Mr. Giants, but for me, it’s New England,” responded Romney, who lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Cramer said NFL owners also may be inclined to support Romney because of their concerns about the sluggish growth rate for the U.S. economy.
“Their game depends on the health of the economy, which begats corporate sponsorships, suites, season tickets, etc.,” Cramer said. “So you support your candidate the way your pocketbook tells you.”