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Follow The Money: Political Contributions Of NBA Owners

As my colleague Jonathan Tjarks wrote on RealGM this week, David Stern’s main duty is akin to the manager of a private country club: screening new members to make sure they meet the club’s standards and making sure existing members can pay their dues. It is a job Stern genuinely enjoys and loves, but these are stressful and arduous times for the commissioner.

Stern has already been successful in talking down the players from their previous holding of 57% of basketball-related income to a 52% that will practically guarantee an aggregate profit for the NBA. The number is likely to drop to 51% or even 50% within the next few days.

But while Stern has been leading the fight against the players, he is also managing 30 owners with vastly different agendas, financial circumstances, long-term goals and short-term goals. Many of the small-market owners either want the players’ share of BRI to drop below 50%, or have the most financially viable teams pay upwards of a quadruple luxury tax.

As I wrote recently, we can look at the projected standings for the 11-12 NBA season to deduce where many of the owners stand in regards to these issues. The Lakers, Heat, Mavericks and Knicks will all have good teams and will be profitable and so they want to play. The Cavaliers, Spurs and Suns will likely be money-losing non-factors and their owners want change.

At times during the course of the lockout, the public conversation has turned political since it servers as a microcosm of issues we face everyday in society.

The robust revenue share sought by small-market owners is a clear example of wealth redistribution.

Efforts by the owners to increase competitive balance is a clear example of market regulations.

Though the average NBA player salary is substantially higher than a teacher or nurse will make in a lifetime earnings, the right to bargain collectively is an issue of great debate for many. We may even get into the heady world of anti-trust law before we see basketball again.

In order to perhaps better understand where owners stand individually, I have examined their campaign contributions listed on NewsMeat.com.

David Stern, NBA Commissioner

Stern has been incredibly active in the Democratic Party for decades, with over $1 million in total donations. Few individuals in the United States have donated as much money to political campaigns as Stern.

Adam Silver, Deputy Commissioner

Like his boss, Silver has been a frequent donor to Democrats. He has become more frequent in his donations since 2004 and was an early supporter of Barack Obama.

Leslie Alexander, Houston Rockets

Records show Alexander has donated less than $15,000 over the past 20 years and exclusively to Democrats. He has supported Chuck Schumer, John Kerry and Chris Dodd.

Paul Allen, Portland Trail Blazers

Allen has donated to Democrats at a rate of 6-to-1 in comparison to Republicans. He has supported Max Baucus, Bill Bradley and Hillary Clinton.

Micky Arison, Miami Heat

Arison has hedged his bets with both Democrats and Republicans, though he has favored the former in individual campaigns. He is a frequent donator to Cruise Lines International Association PAC and has also donated to Every Republican is Crucial.

Clayton Bennett, Oklahoma City Thunder

Bennett has supported Democrat David Boren on multiple occasions, but the balance of his support has been to Republicans. He was a frequent supporter of Rudy Giuliani’s run for President in 2008. Bennett has been one of the more active owners in Republican politics.

Jerry Buss, Los Angeles Lakers

Buss hasn’t been terribly active in donations over the past ten years, but has strongly favored Republicans.

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks

Cuban hasn’t involved himself in much in this area, with nominal support for Orrin Hatch over 15 years ago.

Richard DeVos, Orlando Magic

Similar to the owner of the Thunder, DeVos has been highly active in his support for Republicans across the country.

James Dolan, New York Knicks

Dolan has supported Democrats, with over $300,000 in direct donations and over $100,000 to political action committees. He also donated to George W. Bush and John McCain.

Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers

Gilbert has been a big supporter of Republicans, with donations totaling over $125,000 to Eric Cantor, John McCain, Mitt Romney, George W. Bush and Steve Forbes. He has also sent modest sums to select Democrats. He has donated over $100,000 to Special Interest groups such as the Majority Initiative to Keep Electing Republicans Fund.

Wycliffe Grousbeck, Boston Celtics

Grousbeck has donated nearly evenly to Republicans and Democrats, but has spent frugally. He has supported both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

Joshua Harris, Philadelphia 76ers

Harris is the most recent new member of the owners’ club. He has shown support for both Democrats and Republicans individually and often to simultaneously to parties running against each other. Harris donated to both Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio in 2000, as well as Al Gore and George W. Bush. His big Special Interest donations have been to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Michael Heisley, Memphis Grizzlies

Heisley has the rare distinction of donating to both George W. Bush and Rahm Emanuel, plus the Black America’s PAC. He hasn’t contributed more than $20,000 in total, according to records.

Peter Holt, San Antonio Spurs

Holt is a significant supporter of the Republican Party, both in Texas and Nationally. He is one of the NBA’s most frequent political donors and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Michael Jordan, Charlotte Bobcats

Jordan has yet to send any money to Republicans, but he has supported Barack Obama, Bill Bradley and Harvey Bernard Gantt. 

Herb Kohl, Milwaukee Bucks

Kohl has been a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin since 1989 and is a lifelong member of the Democratic Party.

Stan Kroenke, Denver Nuggets

Kroenke has contributed to the Gridiron PAC, Hulshof for Congress. 

Joe Lacob, Golden State Warriors

Lacob has donated to the likes of Bill Frist, but he has supported Democrats by more than 7-to-1.

Ted Leonsis, Washington Wizards

Leonsis has donated to both Democrats and Republicans, with a slight preference for the former. He interestingly contributed money to Barack Obama in 2007, but donated multiple times to John McCain in September of 2008. 

Greg Miller, Utah Jazz

Miller most recently donated to Harry Reid and also supported John McCain and Orrin Hatch. His donations have been very minimal.

The Maloofs, Sacramento Kings

The Maloof family has occasionally supported Republicans, but their support has been strongly for Democrats as a whole. The entire family supported Danny Tarkanian’s run for U.S. Senate.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Toronto Raptors

The pension fund is unique in its role as majority owner of MLSE. Larry Tanenbaum is the single biggest individual shareholder and is a fundraiser for the center-left Liberal Party of Canada.

Mikhail Prokhorov, New Jersey Nets

As a non-United States citizen, Prokhorov doesn’t have any history in political donations. But he wants to be the leader of the Right Cause party in Russia. The party is based on support of free market reforms and a decentralized federal government. 

Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Bulls

Reinsdorf has spent nearly half a million dollars in political donations, with a track record that favors Democrats by a relatively nominal margin. Unlike his big market peers, Reinsdorf has historically been frugal by avoiding the luxury tax.

Robert Sarver, Phoenix Suns 

Sarver donated to Gabrielle Giffords in 2008 and a few other Democrats along the way, but his biggest contributions have been to John McCain.

Herb Simon, Indiana Pacers

The vast majority of Simon’s contributions have been in the form of Special Interests, with a heavy lean towards Democrats.

Donald Sterling, Los Angeles Clippers

Records show Sterling has donated just $6,000, with no activity since the early 1990s. He supported Gray Davis early in his career, as well as Bill Bradley.

Glen Taylor, Minnesota Timberwolves

Taylor has donated heavily to Republicans within the state of Minnesota, notably to Michele Bachmann and Norm Coleman.

 

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