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NFL owners favor Republicans in campaign cash

By Eric Johnson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - National Football League teams have donated at least $1.4 million to politicians, parties, and committees since 2009, with about two-thirds of the cash going to Republicans, a study released on Friday showed.

The bulk of the top NFL-affiliated political cash comes from team owners, according to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group.

The league's newest team, the Houston Texans, leads the gridiron-giving pack, doling $293,100 to mainly Republican candidates and committees.

The team's contributions were buoyed by owner and founder, Robert McNair, a Texas energy and real estate magnate who has donated $215,200 to political causes since 2009. His net worth is estimated at $1.4 billion.

Among other donations in 2011, McNair has given $2,500 to rising Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain and over $60,000 to committees backing congressional Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Reasons for political contributions vary, according to Michael Beckel of the CRP, ranging from seeking tax breaks or incentives to keep their team in a particular location, to labor relations issues.

"The giving often matches the political landscape of the team's city," said Beckel. "By in large, this is a GOP (Republican)-leaning group of people driven by geography and business interests."

Players and spouses are also included in the totals but they give in much smaller amounts.

The San Diego Chargers came in second, with its players and executives giving $171,500 mainly to Republicans and their committees since 2009. Their contributions were driven principally by the Spanos family, which includes the team's owner, Alex G. Spanos.

The New York Jets ranked third, giving $147,850 in campaign cash. Most of it came from Jets owner Woody Johnson, who gave $130,550 mainly to Republicans since 2009, the second most of anyone associated with the NFL.

Johnson has also given to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Overall, teams mostly favoring Republicans donated at least 70 percent of their contributions to the party. They include the Texans, the Jets, the Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions and the Baltimore Ravens.

Teams that mostly tilted to the Democrats pushed at least 70 percent of their contributions to left-leaning politicians and groups. They include the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints.

Only Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, has heavily favored Democrats and given enough to make the list of top 10 contributors. Of the $33,600 he has contributed since 2009, only $4,800 went to Republicans.

The Browns gave the least, at $750. Of that, about two thirds went to Republicans.

"For the most part, the NFL players are not opening their wallets despite often very sizable salaries," Beckel said.

Notable exceptions include Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who donated $5,000 to Republican Senator Bob Corker, and Julius Peppers, a defensive end for the Chicago Bears, who donated $2,400 to New York Democrat Kevin Powell.

(Additional reporting by Kim Dixon in Washington and Ros Krasny in Boston)

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