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Several sports figures donate in 2012 elections

WASHINGTON -- The New York Giants and New York Jets share an NFL stadium but their owners don't share political views. Woody Johnson of the Jets is a top fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, while Giants co-owner Jonathan Tisch is a generous backer of President Barack Obama.

They're among a host of owners, executives, athletes and coaches from across the sports world supporting candidates in the 2012 election cycle.

Even the NFL and Major League Baseball have political action committees that are funded by sports owners and executives. They've donated to congressional members and the parties' congressional fundraising arms, but haven't picked a presidential candidate -- at least not yet.

It's no secret why the sports industry is weighing in.

Immigration policy, intellectual property rights, Internet gambling, and performance-enhancing drugs are among the issues connected to sports that Washington lawmakers address. The industry lobbies on those matters and more.

Johnson said the skills needed in football and in Washington aren't that much different.

Full coverage: Campaign 2012

"To win on the football field you have to not only have the best players and best coaches, but you have to be organized very well," Johnson said. "You have to have a sense of overall goals, but also manage the minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour operational skill."

Sometimes, fierce rivalries on the field may not mean dramatic differences in politics.

The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, for example, are both backing the GOP team in the presidential election. Dallas owner Jerry Jones has donated to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Romney, while Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has contributed to Romney.

The Redskins also have a family connection to politics, with general manager Bruce Allen donating to brother George Allen, a Republican Senate candidate in Virginia, who wrote a book called "What Washington Can Learn from the World of Sports." The Allens are sons of the late Redskins coach George Allen, who was friends with President Richard Nixon.

Obama has a close connection to the NFL, tapping Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney in 2009 to become ambassador to Ireland. Rooney, a lifelong Republican, campaigned for Obama in the 2008 election.

Several NFL players have also contributed to political campaigns this election, including Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to a pair of GOP senators, Redskins quarterback John Beck to Romney, and Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Tony Pashos to Ron Paul's GOP presidential campaign.

Pashos, whose team bio says he would like to run for office someday, has "Paul for President" bumper stickers flanking the nameplate on his locker.

"I would never, ever give to any politician," Pashos told The Associated Press. "But with Dr. Paul, I don't think I'm giving to a politician. I think I'm giving to a man who is honest and can actually deliver change."

Beck, in contrast, said he isn't out-front in expressing his political views in the locker room, lest it disrupt team harmony.

"I'm not going around trying to force my belief on anybody else, just like they're not trying to force their belief on me," he said.

The NBA, which recently ended a potential season-killing lockout, is providing the biggest splash in politics -- but in Russia, not the U.S. The owner of the New Jersey Nets, Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, announced last month he will challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March presidential election. If Prokhorov wins, he will join Milwaukee Bucks owner and U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl as owner-politicians, but for less than a year. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, is not seeking re-election.

The end of the lockout will cost the Obama campaign some dough, at least for a few months. In December, more than two-dozen NBA players were to headline a fundraiser for the president, who is a huge basketball fan. But with players having to get ready for the season, which opened last month, the "Obama Classic" was postponed till this summer, during the offseason.

NBA players Vince Carter, Baron Davis and Chris Paul broke the news about the postponement in a recent letter to supporters who had purchased tickets for the event. Obama has already had fundraisers with NBA players, including one in October near Orlando, Fla., that featured Carter, Grant Hill and Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Former basketball great Bill Russell has also headlined some Obama fundraisers.

Some NBA coaches are getting behind the president, including Mike D'Antoni of the New York Knicks, who has donated $5,000.

"I'm very political and I have strong views. Now, I'm also coach of everybody. I'm the New York Knicks coach so I've got to be careful with what it is," D'Antoni told the AP, but added that he wanted to be engaged. "I've got a kid that I don't want to leave more than $15 trillion in debt to."

Another Obama donor, Ted Leonsis, who owns the NBA's Washington Wizards and the NHL's Washington Capitals, has since criticized the president in a blog item called "Class Warfare- Yuck!"

Leonsis, who donated $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund in June, wrote in the blog item three months later that Obama was wrong to talk about "millionaires and billionaires" who need to pay more in taxes.

"I voted for our president," he wrote. "I have maxed out on personal donations to his re-election campaign. I forgot his campaign wants to raise $1 billion. THAT is a lot of money-money-money-money! Money still talks. It blows my mind when I am asked for money as a donation at the same time I am getting blasted as being a bad guy! Someone needs to talk our president down off of this rhetoric about good vs. evil; about two classes and math."

At a glance

Some sports figures who have made political donations for this year's elections:

  • Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, $5,000 to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and $1,000 to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.
  • St. Louis Rams guard Jacob Bell, $1,000 to Florida Democratic congressional candidate Patrick Murphy
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow, $1,500 to the Obama Victory Fund
  • Buccaneers center Jeff Faine, $1,000 to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
  • Washington Redskins quarterback John Beck, $400 to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney
  • Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, $2,500 to Romney and $10,000 to National Republican Congressional Committee
  • New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, $2,500 to Romney; $5,000 to Romney's PAC; and donations to several Republican Senate candidates
  • New York Giants co-owner Jonathan Tisch, $35,800 to Obama Victory Fund; $15,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; $10,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; and donations to several Democratic members of Congress and a Democratic PAC
  • San Diego Chargers president Dean Spanos, $2,500 to GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry; $2,500 to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and $2,500 to McCarthy's Victory Fund
  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, $2,500 to Perry; $2,500 to Romney; and $2,500 to GOP Texas Senate candidate David Dewhurst
  • Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Tony Pashos, $1,500 to Ron Paul's GOP presidential campaign
  • New York Knicks guard Baron Davis, $7,500 to Obama Victory Fund
  • Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, $5,000 to President Barack Obama
  • Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew, $500 to Obama
  • Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge, $2,500 to Romney
  • Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, $35,800 to Obama Victory Fund; $2,000 to Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass.; and $2,000 to Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md.
  • NBA commissioner David Stern, $2,500 to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; $5,000 to Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.; $30,800 to DSCC; and $4,800 to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
  • Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, $10,000 to DSCC
  • Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, $30,400 to DSCC; $33,300 to Pelosi Victory Fund (with money split between Pelosi and DCCC)
  • Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, $2,500 to Romney
  • Atlanta Braves senior vice president and Hall-of-Fame slugger Hank Aaron, $1,000 to Florida Democratic congressional candidate Lois Frankel
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