Baseball’s (political) heavy hitters

Photo of President Obama practicing a baseball pitch
President Barack Obama practicing for a 2010 appearance on the mound. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

While MLB players will be taking the field for Sunday's and Monday's opening day games in hopes of winning a World Series title in October, team owners may have their sights set on winning a different sort of Fall Classic.

According to data from Sunlight's Influence Explorer, MLB organizations pumped in over $24 million to politicians, PACs and independent expenditure groups throughout the 2012 election cycle. (No wonder presidents like to toss out the season's first pitch.)

Our survey, which looked at contributions by club employees and members of ownership groups, showed five clubs surpassing the million-dollar mark for campaign contributions in the 2011-2012 political cycle: The Chicago Cubs blew the rest of the teams away with a staggering $13.9 million, followed by the Baltimore Orioles with $1.8 million, the San Francisco Giants with $1.5 million, the Boston Red Sox with $1.3 million and the Milwaukee Brewers, which gave slightly more than $1 million.

MLB drives to right field

And unlike the great Pete Rose, Major League Baseball is definitely not a switch-hitter in its giving; more than 75 percent of contributions tied to teams went to conservative causes. In fact, ball clubs gave four times more to Republicans than Democrats. On the extreme right were the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers, all of which gave exclusively to the GOP. The Cubs organization, whose billionaire owner Joe Ricketts went on an "ending spending" spree, maintained the highest overall donation rate to Republicans with an astounding $12.7 million, mostly funneling into super PACs. On the other end of the spectrum, the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins gave 99 percent and 95 percent, respectively, of their contributions to Democrats. Led by CEO and longtime liberal advocate Peter Angelos, the Os sent $1.8 million to Democratic causes, three times as much as the Twins. The Los Angeles Dodgers are also blue in more ways than just their uniforms, and, politically speaking, so are the San Francisco Giants.

Image of baseball scoreboard
Graphic credit: The Sunlight Foundation

In the battle between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, however, there was less of a partisan disparity. Out of $4.2 million provided to the presidential rivals and super PACs by donors linked to MLB teams, Romney received 58 percent. The owners of the Boston Red Sox supported the former Massachusetts governor the most, with more than $475,000 in donations. Obama's baseball mainstay: Angelos' Orioles. He and other Os employees backed the president to the tune of more than $560,000. The Pohlad family, owners of the Twins franchise, weren't far behind, chipping in almost $500,000 for Obama's campaign.

White Sox heart Obama back

And what of Obama's beloved Chicago White Sox? It appears his hometown team is reciprocating the love — to a degree. The White Sox organization bequeathed seven donations to the president, but they amounted to just $60,000. And Romney's seemingly fallen out of favor with these Sox, as he received a paltry $7,000 from the South Side team.

The vast majority of baseball's political contributions stem from team execs and owners. Only a handful of players opened their pockets for last year's election, and those who did gave modestly. Current players that donated to conservative candidates include White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham, Yankees designated hitter Travis Hafner, Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and San Diego Padres pitcher Huston Street. Tony Gwynn, Jr. of the Dodgers, and son of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, was the only player we found donating to liberal causes. But a few baseball legends serving as special assistants to their clubs also gave to Democrats, including Hank Aaron and Lou Brock as well as Sammy Sosa, one of the sluggers caught up in baseball's steroids scandal who still may be nursing a grudge over getting traded by former President George W. Bush when the Texas Republican was running the Rangers.

Cubs' ending spending spree

But the MVP of last election's MLB donations, was without a doubt Cubs owner Ricketts, who bought the baseball team with his family in 2009. He established the conservative Ending Spending Action Fund, ironically lavishing the super PAC with more than $12 million to fight against wasteful spending. Ricketts ran into a public relations buzz saw last May when the New York Times obtained a copy of a controversial plan to topple Obama called "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good." He later disavowed the plan, but continued giving to the president's political rivals. Ricketts dropped $100,000 on the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC and into the political coffers of Wisconsin's controversial Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Rickett's children, who serve on the executive board of the Cubs, also gave heavily throughout the last cycle. Todd Ricketts gave almost $200,000 to conservatives across the board, and Peter Ricketts $115,000. But Joe's daughter, Laura, has veered from the Republican streak the rest of her family seems to share. Laura sent more than $575,000 to Democratic candidates and PACs, such as $185,000 to LPAC. Her total donations surpassed the money given to liberal causes for all but two teams in baseball.

One of those teams was the Orioles, whose political donations were almost single-handedly funded by Angelos and his wife, Georgia. A lawyer by trade, Angelos is the CEO and majority owner of Charm City's team, along with other partners such as spy novelist Tom Clancy (who made no recorded donations). Angelos is a lifelong Democrat, frequently spending millions on elections — and last year was no exception. He and his wife proved they were the biggest Democratic players in baseball for 2012, writing checks for $575,000 to Senate Majority PAC, $500,000 to Priorities USA Action (now Organizing for Action) and $450,000 to House Majority PAC.

Giant givers

The Giants have a large ownership group, so adding up the donations of its members helped the team lived up to its name in terms of campaign giving, recording 270 distinct financial transactions. The team's leading investor (and one of America's 100 richest people), Charles Johnson, may keep a low profile, but he certainly makes himself heard trough political contributions — $548,412 in the last cycle alone. He and his wife contribute almost exclusively to Republican causes, including a $200,000 bomb to Karl Rove's American Crossroads.

The Red Sox are another team with a large front office, boasting 14 partners with a stake in the team. The face of the ownership, John Henry, didn't donate anything — but others more than made up for that. Larry Lucchino, the team's president and CEO, provided the bulk of the Democratic donations, including some for Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass. Other partners skewed to the right, making hefty contributions to former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, among other Republicans.

The Brewers were the final team to hit the $1 million home run in political contributions. Bigwigs here include John Canning, Jr., an executive at Madison Dearborn Partners, Robert Beyer, chairman of Chaparal Investments, and Marc Stern, vice chair of the TCW Group — all of whom are conservative donors. They each handed out a slew of $50,000 contributions to organizations such as Romney Victory, Restore Our Future and the New Prosperity Foundation.

Notable teams that didn't make the cut: for starters, the Toronto Blue Jays registered nothing. This isn't surprising, however, since there is a ban on foreign contributions to U.S. campaigns. The Oakland Athletics, led by owner Lew Wolff, only registered a lone $5,000 donation to MLB's political committee. And the Yankees, who have had the highest payroll in the league for 15 years in a row, registered a mere $43,000 in donations under the new generation of Steinbrenner family leadership.

Selig plays center field

A portion of each team's political contributions flows into MLB's own committee, called the MLB Commissioner's Office PAC. Managed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, the group collects each team's share, usually in $5,000 increments, and generally divides the pot evenly among Democratic and Republican lawmakers. The only team skipped out on this obligation was the Dodgers. Still, this cycle the PAC churned out over $535,000 to curry favor with lawmakers. As usual, it was almost an even partisan split, favoring Democrats by a slim margin. The biggest recipients were the fundraising arms of each party, in which the DSCC and DCCC received $60,000 combined, as did the NRCC and NRSC. Selig, however, made two blue donations in his own name, Allan G. Selig, including a $10,000 gift to the DSCC.

Opening Day also creates a whole new arena for lawmakers to collect some cash. A quick look at Sunlight's Political Party Time shows that there have been dozens of fundraisers that occurred at baseball stadiums across the country. And some are yet to happen — Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is hosting fundraiser with a maximum $2,000 pricetag at an upcoming ballgame between the Washington Nationals and his hometown Cardinals.

Baseball Donations

A list of MLB teams and political giving by their connections in the 2012 campaign cycle is below. Click on each team’s total to get a complete chart of contributions by employees.

Team Total Contributions
Baltimore $1,829,200
Boston $1,367,245
Chicago WS $260,543
Cleveland $22,272
Detroit $186,925
Houston $55,050
Kansas City $57,902
LA Angels $126,250
Minnesota $644,016
NY Yankees $43,220
Oakland $5,000
Seattle $488,751
Tampa Bay $20,250
Texas $117,350
Toronto $0
Arizona $366,398
Atlanta $35,100
Chicago Cubs $13,917,827
Cincinnati $360,565
Colorado $246,089.6
LA Dodgers $372,250
Miami $178,550
Milwaukee $1,030,597
NY Mets $188,394
Philadelphia $246,700
Pittsburgh $28,000
San Diego $92,950
San Francisco $1,566,494
St. Louis $121,637
Washington $81,375

How we did the story

Sunlight’s compilation of MLB’s political givers is based on data acquired from Influence Explorer, a database that compiles data on campaign donations to federal candidates from the Center for Responsive Politics and data on donations to state candidates from the National Institute of Money in State Politics. We first tallied donations from individuals who listed MLB teams as their employers. But because some members of ownership groups don’t list the baseball team as their primary employer, we ran those names individually through Influence Explorer to come up with a more complete picture of the MLB’s political giving.

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