National Football League Backs Reid Over Angle; Invests $340,000 to Save Incumbent Congress

By Matt Cover | October 28, 2010 | 3:14 PM EDT

In this Sept. 19, 2010 photo, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talks with Cleveland Browns coach Bryan Cox before a football game, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

( - The National Football League’s political action committee—Gridiron PAC—has weighed in on the hotly contested U.S. Senate election in Nevada that pits conservative Republican challenger Sharron Angle against Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

The PAC has given $10,000 to Reid—the maximum it can give in a single election cycle—and no money to Angle, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by

The NFL’s PAC also contributed to other incumbent Democratic senators facing viable challengers this year, giving $5,000 to Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas; $5,000 to Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; $5,000 to Barbara Boxer of California; $5,000 to Michael Bennet of Colorado; and $5,000 to Patty Murray of Washington.

In none of these races did the NFL’s PAC contribute to the Republican challenger.

Of the $341,000 the NFL’s PAC has contributed to congressional candidates in this election cycle, $340,000 has gone to incumbents. The other $1,000 went to Brian Rooney, an unsuccessful Republican primary candidate in a U.S. congressional district in Michigan, who is the grandson of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney.

The Louisiana Senate race is the only federal election contest in this election cycle where the Gridiron PAC has contributed to the nominees of both major parties. There, the PAC gave $1,500 to Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), who is a sitting House member running as the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican Sen. David Vitter. The PAC also gave $2,500 to Vitter.

Other than Reid, the only other candidates to whom the NFL’s PAC has maxed out with $10,000 in contributions are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.); Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus (and third ranking Democrat in the Senate); Rep. Edolphus Towns (D.-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; and Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

As NFL Vice President of Government Relations Jeff Miller told, the Gridiron PAC’s giving patterns are in keeping with its pro-incumbent policy.

“It’s not uncommon among political action committees to support incumbents or almost solely incumbents,” Miller said. “Those are one of the rules that our PAC follows.”

“The NFL, like other businesses its size, uses a variety of tools to work with Congress,” Miller explained. “One, of course, is having a Washington [D.C.] office, which we have. Another is the relationship the clubs have formed with their local elected officials. The other is the political action committee.”

“It’s common--I would say very common--that PACs give predominantly, overwhelmingly, or maybe in some cases almost exclusively, to incumbents as opposed to challengers,” said Miller. “So, it’s not a sign to anyone. The PAC is a tool to help us work cooperatively with Congress to further the goals of the National Football League.”

Miller said the NFL does not take into account where a candidate stands on contentious issues such as health care or taxes, or the political fortunes of a particular incumbent, or the fact that polls have shown a generally anti-incumbent public mood in the run-up to this year’s election.

“The NFL focuses its attention in Congress on the issues that effect our business,” Miller said. “How a member views those issues is relevant to our consideration and our ability to work with them. But what somebody might think of as a highly partisan issue that divides people--if it doesn’t have an effect on how the NFL does its business and its business of course is trying to appeal to its fans – then that’s not something that would involve us.”

“If the Congress changes, you’ll see that the giving will continue to go to people who are in significant roles in Congress regardless of party--political affiliation doesn’t play a role in deciding for or against somebody, rather it’s the role that they play in Congress which determines whether or not we work with them and whether they’re a recipient of PAC [money],” he said.

Miller said the PAC supported Brian Rooney because he is part of the NFL “family,” and that supporting NFL “family” members, along with incumbents, is a part of the PAC’s policy. The PAC also contributed to Rep. Heath Shuler (D.-N.C.), who is a former NFL quarterback.

The money that the PAC raised to distribute to incumbent members of the House and Senate was contributed by owners and top executives of NFL teams plus their spouses. The PAC was formed in May 2008.

The Senate campaigns of Sharron Angle and Sen. Reid did not respond to requests from to comment for this story.