Play ball! How MLB teams rank in political giving


It's opening day of Major League Baseball's 2012 season, so Sunlight has decided to take a look at which teams are the heaviest hitters when it comes to political giving.

Turns out the deepest pockets don't always correlate with most home runs.

Orioles statue

The Baltimore Orioles finished dead last in the American League East last year with a dismal record of 63 wins and 93 losses, but giving by their politically active owner, Peter Angelos, has made the Charm City team the champions of campaign giving.

Angelos gave more in the 2002 election cycle–some $2.1 million–than he did in any other. Perhaps the longtime Democratic donor wanted to influence the legislative fight to authorize the Department of Homeland Security, had a bitter taste left by the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, or wanted to distract himself from an announcement made by Commissioner Bud Selig that neighboring Washington — which Angelos long regarded as part of his market —  was the prime choice to relocate the Montreal Expos. The O's owner tried to block the move, failed, but did manage to win concessions including other owners guaranteeing a $365 million sales price should Angelos sell the team. He also forced an unfavorable TV deal on the team — which has prompted grousing but no serious pushback from members of Congress who, after all, control baseball's antitrust exemption.

Another team that makes the top five of political givers, the Philadelphia Phillies, began upping contributions to state lawmakers in the late 1990s, just as the professional sports teams in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh began pressing the Pennsylvania legislature for funding for new stadiums. The legislature cooperated and the Phillies new Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004.

Despite the New York Yankees' gold-plated payroll and the fact that late owner George Steinbrenner, was once temporarily suspended from baseball for making illegal campaign contributions to former president Richard Nixon, the lads in pinstripes finish out of the top-five of baseball's campaign givers.

Also notable: The Chicago White Sox, President Obama's beloved hometown team, did not return the First Fan's love. Of the more than $200,000 in political contributions made by Sox employees, we found only one, for $500, to Obama. By contrast, team employees gave $31,000 to jailed ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.  Obama's 2008 presidential rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., rated a $2,500 contribution from Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf  also gave $2,000 to Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., now Obama's vice president, but there's no record of any donation to his home state president.

Many of the team executives give their biggest contributions to the Major League Baseball commissioner's office, which in turn doles out strategically even-handed contributions to the leadership PACs of top congressional leaders.

The opening of baseball season also offers a whole host of new fundraising venues for members of Congress. Political Party Time data reveals 55 baseball-related events — 49 of them ballpark fundraisers . Most of these have taken place in DC, but we've also got records of fundraisers at Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Camden Yards, PetCo Park and Yankee Stadium to name a few. But if a politician can't make it to a home game for a fundraiser, he or she can just wait for the home team to play the Nationals.

Sunlight's rankings of baseball political givers is based on figures compiled in Influence Explorer, our database that pulls in records of political contributions at the federal and state level going as far back as 1990. We tallied donations by individuals who identified themselves as affiliated with the major league teams.  For the top finishers, we've provided links to detailed, sortable tables of the political contributions by team employees.

Not included in our table: The Toronto Blue Jays. Probably because of the ban on foreign contributions to U.S. campaigns, the MLB's lone Canadian team registered the lowest on our tally: The only contribution we could find from a Blue Jay came from American pitcher Lance Broadway (a native of Texas), who in 2010 gave $250 to home state Rep. Ron Paul, a candidate for this year's GOP presidential nomination. 

Team Amount
Baltimore Orioles $4.5 million
Arizona Diamondbacks $1.16 million
Philadelphia Phillies $650,000
Los Angeles Dodgers $617,000
San Diego Padres $592,000
New York Yankees $576,000
San Francisco Giants $563,000
Colorado Rockies $542,000
Seattle Mariners $455,000
Milwaukee Brewers $437,000
Boston Red Sox $380,000
Florida Marlins $350,000
Pittsburgh Pirates $343,000
St. Louis Cardinals $309,000
New York Mets $270,000
Chicago Cubs $248,000
Chicago White Sox $234,000
Texas Rangers $229,000
Cleveland Indians $211,000
Tampa Bay Rays $207,000
Kansas City Royals $190,000
Minnesota Twins $159,000
Houston Astros $151,000
Atlanta Braves $103,000
Cincinnati Reds $57,000
Los Angeles Angels $56,000
Detroit Tigers $49,000
Washington Nationals $37,000
Oakland Athletics $33,000

Photo credit: Marianne O'Leary