Update: Just after this article posted, Fox 26 reported that Bob McNair made “substantial” donations to forces opposing Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
Would you be willing to hand over absurd amounts of money to a person whose politics you oppose? What about if you knew that a large amount of said cash would end up in the pockets of politicians? Okay, let’s put it this way: Would you be willing to spend massive amounts of money on season tickets, $12 beers, and parking fees at the playhouse of a team who uses his clout and bank account to influence politicians?
If you’re a Democrat, you might want to rethink any financial commitments to Texans fandom, because sending any money to Bob McNair’s team essentially equates to writing a check to the GOP.
Many NFL owners tilt right—16 of 32, according to the Washington Examiner. Another ten donate to Democrats. Colts owner Jim Irsay hedges his bets, and five owners sit on the sidelines. So though it isn’t strange to have a Republican owner, Bob McNair is the reddest of the red.
According to the Examiner, Republican owners give far more on average than Dems ($299,000 to $32,000). But the article adds that the GOP’s huge surplus comes from one man: McNair.
McNair, who has owned the Texans since the NFL awarded a team to him in 1999, has an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion. He has donated $3.4 million since 2009, most of it going to pro-Mitt Romney super PACs in the final weeks of the 2012 election cycle. His contributions account for almost two-thirds of all political donations from NFL team owners.
If you remove McNair, the other GOP-leaning owners have donated slightly less than $96,000 on average, which still dwarfs the Democrats’ average, but not by nearly as much.
(Note: per Forbes’ weird real-time list of America’s richest people, McNair’s net worth is $3.3 billion at the time of this writing.)
This year, McNair has scratched out $500,000 checks to no fewer than four Republican presidential campaigns: Cruz, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, and Jeb Bush. With one of those campaigns already DOA, another consigned to the kids’ table debates, and the other two polling anemically, you could say McNair gives millions to losers off of the field and on. Last year, he gave equal amounts to no fewer than seven GOP senate candidates in seven different states. So, all told, that’s $6 million to GOP candidates across the country since the beginning of last year, and add in another $450,000 to the Greg Abbott campaign. Hey, he’s sold a lot of JJ Watt jerseys the last year or so.
Between 2009 and October 2011, McNair donated $215,200 to Republican candidates, but not a penny to a single Democrat. And in the waning months of the 2012 election cycle, evidently alarmed at the prospect of a second term for Obama, McNair went full Battle Red, shoveling millions into the Romney campaign.
Back in the 2004 election cycle, McNair gave $500,000 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, thus helping to portray Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, as a coward. One of the Swift Boat TV ads was condemned publicly by that noted left-wing activist, John McCain:
“I deplore this kind of politics,” McCain said. “I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is, none of these individuals served on the boat (Kerry) commanded. Many of his crew have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. I think George Bush served honorably in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.”
Around the same time, in September of 2004, McNair donated $1.25 million to the Progress for America PAC, which ran swing-state campaign ads linking the Iraq occupation to “the war on terror,” worked to privatize Social Security and end senate filibustering, and lobbied for Samuel Alito’s seat on the Supreme Court. He also ponied up over $1 million to the Texas tort reform cause, whose backers told us that decimating the number of medical malpractice suits and capping their damages would lead to hordes of new doctors coming to Texas and lower healthcare costs. Neither has occurred. Nor have our electric bills declined after McNair, Ken Lay and other fat cats successfully lobbied to have the industry deregulated here.
McNair, for his part, has been pretty open about his political leanings. “I support candidates that support the free-enterprise system and believe in free trade,” McNair told USA Today at the time. “Most of the people who support those policies are people in the Republican Party.”
Yeah, McNair supports the free-enterprise system right up to the point where he doesn’t. Like when he needs a stadium for his football team, for example. Nearly half of NRG Stadium’s $474 million price tag—$289 million—was publicly funded. But in McNair’s mind, at least, it’s primarily the out of towners footing the bill. He told ESPN:
That’s how we sold the project in Houston, it was sort of user pay. The hotel occupancy tax, well football draws a lot of people in. The rental car tax, people from out of town come in, they rent cars. It’s not property taxes that were supporting it.
And there’s another thing that McNair and Republicans share. If there’s one thing Bob McNair hates, it’s taxes (unless they’re yours, and they’re helping him build his stadium). McNair is a co-founder of Americans for Fair Taxation, which advocates for abolishing the IRS and replacing the federal income tax with a 23 percent sales tax on retail goods and services. In 2005, Cary and Cal McNair, two of Bob’s sons, were involved in nasty litigation over their involvement in tax shelters the IRS deemed illegal. (The younger McNairs claimed not to have known that the shelters were verboten.)
McNair has his reasons for supporting the GOP, but here’s why he shouldn’t: We’ve theorized that the Texans’ perennial mediocrity might stem from McNair’s reliance on goody-two-shoes players, but it seems that Republican owners have had even less success on the field than they do in the U.S. House.
January’s Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl pitted two of the league’s Democrat-owned teams against each other. Patriots owner Bob Kraft is the anti-McNair, the league’s most generous donor to Democratic candidates and causes. Kraft’s team has won four of the last 13 Super Bowls. The Democrat-owned Giants, Seahawks, Ravens, Steelers have six rings between them over the same span. Hedging Jim Irsay’s Colts and apathetic Malcolm Glazer’s Buccaneers have two of the others. In fact, since 2002, only one franchise owned by a true Republican has hoisted a Super Bowl trophy: Tom Benson’s New Orleans Saints, back in 2010.
From looking at the records of the other teams owned by big-spending GOP donors—the Redskins, Browns, Dolphins, Chiefs, and Chargers, to name a few—you wonder if these owners should keep their eye on the pigskin instead of the pork barrel.
Meanwhile, Woody Johnson, owner of the perpetually dismal New York Jets, famously said four years ago that he would rather see Mitt Romney in the White House than a winning season from the Jets. Similarly, it seems McNair would rather see candidates bending to his will than he would the Texans in the Super Bowl delivering for the city he fleeced with his stadium deal.