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Stanley Cup runneth over with political cash: NHL owners scored big for GOP

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Image of hockey scoreboard

The puck drops tonight for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and while hockey's bigwigs will be watching from afar in their box suites, they certainly took the ice during last year's election -- scoring big for the GOP. According to data from Sunlight's Influence Explorer, National Hockey League owners provided more than $3 million to politicians, PACs and independent expenditure groups during the 2012 election cycle.

Owners contributed more than three times as much to Republicans: More than $2.7 million of the contributions by hockey moguls went to conservative causes compared to $680,000 to Democratic causes. In fact, five teams -- the Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres -- gave exclusively to conservative campaigns. Only the Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks did the same for liberal causes -- but their combined donations amounted to a relatively paltry $7,500.

It's not entirely suprising to see the Republican tilt amongst the NHL's wealthy owners, a group that had battled the players' union in a months long lockout that almost led to the cancellation of the entire season.

Sunlight's survey, which examined political contributions of American NHL ownership groups  (We excluded the NHL's Canadian teams becase it'sillegal for non-citizens to underwrite U.S. campaigns), found 10 clubs whose owners or employees gave more than $100,000 during 2012 election cycle and four teams that breached the $200,000 mark, including: the St. Louis Blues ($674,518); the Los Angeles Kings ($413,300); the Buffalo Sabres ($266,600); and the San Jose Sharks ($244,453). Four teams didn't contribute anything -- the Dallas Stars, the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders, and the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes. All of the teams who stayed on the bench during the 2012 politiccal season missed the playoffs this year. Coincidence?

The presidential race prompted an especially lopsided response from the NHL. Out of about $1.35 million given to presidential candidates, NHL owners gave Republican nominee Mitt Romney the vast majority -- $1.2 million of it. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, got $150,000 -- a ratio that favors the Republican by nearly 9 to 1. Even President Obama's hometown Chicago Blackhawks wouldn't give him so much as a penny. Only five of the teams even supported Obama at all -- the Blues ($70,800), the Washington Capitals ($45,800), the Florida Panthers ($35,800), the Sharks ($2,500) and the Ducks ($2,500). Romney also saw big bucks come in from the Blues ($190,000), as well as the Carolina Hurricanes, Lightning and Sabres which all contributed about $150,000.

So the playoff matchups are set -- which one is the most expensive in terms of political donations? As it turns out, the Western Division's #4-seed Blues vs. the #5-seed Kings are the top seeds in our political scoring. The NHL's two top political givers, with a combined output of $1.1 million, are playing each other in the first round.

Below are profiles of some of the NHL's more noteworthy political activists:

  • St. Louis Blues: St. Louis was anything but "blue" with $376,000 in donations to Republican candidates or conservative causes. But the team that was the second-highest underwriter of GOP groups, also gave the most to Democrats by far with over $225,000. The reason for this double-dipping stems from the Blues' 16-member ownership group, which includes a variety of political players. The real power comes from businessman David Steward and his wife, Thelma, who pumped in more than almost every other team on their own -- a huge $363,000. Their giving was almost evenly bipartisan, with contributions to both Missouri Senate candidates Todd Akin and Claire McCaskill as well as both Romney and Obama. (They also contributed $5,000 to Politwoops favorite Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.) Also in the ownership group was former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., who contributed almost $30,000 to the GOP, including former colleagues Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and former Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., the latter lost a primary election.
  • Los Angeles Kings: Last year's Stanley Cup champions also leaned hard right, giving 92% of their total $413,000 in donations to GOP campaigns. Owners Phil Anschutz and Ed Roski are noted Republican underwriters, and that might have made their celebratory trip to the White House in March a tad bit awkward. Anschutz resides in Colorado and showed his support by donating $35,000 to Centennial State representatives, as well as doling out $115,000 to national GOP fundraising committees. Roski maxed out to presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty, then went all in for Romney with more than $50,000 in donations. But Roski also sent a slew of $2,500 contributions to California Democrats like Rep. Brad Sherman and Lucille Roybal-Allard.
  • Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are led by conservative businessman Terry Pegula, who gave exclusively to the GOP. Along with his wife, Kim, he contributed $150,000 to Romney Victory. They also backed former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., to the tune of $66,600.
  • Washington Capitals: At least Obama can count on some support from D.C.-based Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. One of the only true blue teams, Leonsis contributed $45,800 to the Obama Victory Fund. However, he did hedge his bets, donating $10,000 to Romney's campaign account.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: Another solidly Democratic donor, owner Ron Burkle has sent almost all of his $70,000 to liberal causes. The California-based supermarket tycoon has sent over $12,000 to Golden State lawmakers, as well as a hefty $30,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. However, it seems as if he ditched Obama for the presidency, giving former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty $2,500. He remains a huge underwriter of Democratic causes, as shown by his Influence Explorer profile.
  • San Jose Sharks: The Sharks delivered the fourth-highest total in political donations, due in part from the team's  large ownership group. Most of its members contributed strictly to conservatives: Floyd Kvamme and his wife, Jean, doled out $100,000 to Romney Victory among others. They also gave to the failed presidential campaigns of Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman. But Bay area philanthropist George Gund III donated more than $50,000 to the victory fund of House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
  • Chicago Blackhawks: There is absolutely no financial love for the president from his hometown Blackhawks, this year's best team. Businessman Rocky Wirtz, the principal owner of the team, opted to support almost entirely Republicans, including $10,000 for Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., and $1,000 each to Tim Pawlenty and Scott Brown.

Also worth noting: Several teams gave significant contributions to state lawmakers during the 2012 election cycle. The Florida Panthers doled out more than $25,000 to Sunshine State lawmakers while they were seeking a $7.7 million taxpayer loan for arena renovations; county commissers approved the loan soon after. And Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs made 53 separate contributions worth more almost $30,000 to West Virginia politicians. Jacobs is the head of gaming and hospitality corporation Delaware North, which owns a casino in Wheeling, W. Va.

No current NHL players opened up their wallets to politicians for the 2012 cycle. Two recently retired skaters did show up in the search, however: former Edmonton Oilers center Mike Comrie maxed out $35,800 to the Obama Victory Committee, while former Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski gave a more modest $250 to Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn..

Sunlight's compilation of NHL's political givers is based on data acquired from Influence Explorer, a database that compiles information on campaign donations to federal candidates from the Center for Responsive Politics and on donations to state candidates from the National Institute of Money in State Politics. Because many members of ownership groups don't list the hockey team as their primary employer, we ran those names individually through Influence Explorer to come up with a more complete picture of the NHL's political giving. There are three categories of giving used in this analysis -- Republican, Democrat, and Other, which is comprised of third-party and non-partisan recipients.

(Illustration by Caitlin Weber/Sunlight Foundation)

Election contributions in the 2012 cycle by NHL owners

Team Total Contributions links
Anaheim Ducks $14,000.00 link to data
Boston Bruins $110,079.79 link to data
Buffalo Sabres $266,600.00 link to data
Carolina Hurricanes $186,437.40 link to data
Chicago Blackhawks $56,507.00 link to data
Colorado Avalanche $5,000.00 link to data
Columbus Blue Jackets $90,000.00 link to data
Dallas Stars $0.00 None
Detroit Red Wings $184,000.00 link to data
Florida Panthers $75,300.00 link to data
Los Angeles Kings $413,300.00 link to data
Minnesota Wild $54,150.00 link to data
Nashville Predators $146,356.00 link to data
New Jersey Devils $0.00 None
New York Islanders $0.00 None
New York Rangers $168,100.00 link to data
Philadelphia Flyers $42,500.00 link to data
Phoenix Coyotes $0.00 None
Pittsburgh Penguins $72,022.10 link to data
San Jose Sharks $244,453.00 link to data
St. Louis Blues $674,518.00 link to data
Tampa Bay Lightning $151,955.00 link to data
Washington Capitals $67,800.00 link to data
     
TOTAL $3,023,078.29