|Rep. Betty McCollum, (D) Minn.|
For at least the third time in recent years, the Democratic Representative is pushing to cut Pentagon funding for NASCAR teams, in an effort to save taxpayers’ money. An amendment introduced by McCollum and Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston passed the House Appropriations Committee this week, and could ultimately be headed for a floor vote. The amendment would reduce or eliminate advertising dollars for motor sports, fishing, wrestling and mixed martial arts events, and is virtually identical to one floated by McCollum in February of 2011.
McCollum represents Minnesota’s Fourth District, which includes the capital city of St. Paul. Her website says she brings “a common sense, Minnesota perspective to her work on the House Appropriations and Budget Committees” and has been “a champion for excellence in education, protecting the environment, expanding health care access and fiscal responsibility.”
She is also no fan of NASCAR.
A year ago, she basked in the national spotlight after introducing a bill to abolish funding for NASCAR teams, race events and other ancillary programs. She railed against the alleged wastefulness of those expenditures, even after being presented with a late 2010 Simmons National Consumer Survey that showed NASCAR fans to be more than 1.5 times more likely to serve in the armed forces as non-fans.
More than one in four service members are NASCAR fans, but that doesn’t matter to Rep. McCollum. Neither do the opinions of experts like Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who testified last year that sponsorship of NASCAR teams is one of the most effective means of attracting qualified new recruits.
“This is having an impact on recruiting and helping our recruiters with their jobs,” said Freakley. “The alternative to this is having a recruiter walking up and down a mall… talking to about 150 people just to get one person to engage them. That is what we used to have to do. We have a great and, in my mind, treasured relationship with NASCAR because it gives us a great venue to tell our story as soldiers where people are receptive to it.”
Even when confronted with those facts, McCollum refused to relent, insisting that motorsports sponsorships have failed to recruit new servicemen and women. She even attempted to add a partisan slant to the debate, blaming conservative Republicans for “wasting the American peoples’ money.”
“Taxpayer-funded NASCAR race cars are an absurdity at a time when the Republican-Tea Party is cutting federal support for homeless veterans, law enforcement officers, and firefighters,” she said last year. “My Republican-Tea Party colleagues can support my amendment and stop wasting tax payer dollars, or they can vote to keep wasting the American peoples’ money.”
Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, whose district is home to several NASCAR teams, said McCollum’s efforts were rooted in a personal bias against NASCAR and its fans.
“She may believe that none of her constituents watch NASCAR, but they do,” said Henry. “This shows that she is on the warpath against NASCAR. This is more about her disdain for NASCAR than it really is about saving taxpayers’ money,” calling NASCAR “a target rich environment” for military recruiters.
McCollum responded that she has “watched” several auto races, and that her only desire is to save taxpayers money.
“What is it about NASCAR as a special interest that we can’t even have an open discussion on the priorities?” she asked last year in a New York Times interview. “A lot of people who own the sports teams (are) making a lot of money. Are they wrapping themselves in the flag and the taxpayers don’t know that they’re footing the bill for it?”
McCollum admitted being approached by colleagues on both sides of the aisle discouraging her from introducing last year’s version of the bill. She ignored that advice, and ultimately claimed to have received numerous calls – and at least one death threat -- from NASCAR fans upset with her attack on the sport.
"We’ve had calls,” admitted McCollum’s Chief of Staff, Bill Harper last June. “Lots of Mississippi people, North Carolina people. We had a Florida person.”
McCollum’s 2011 amendment ultimately failed, 281-148, on a voice vote. The Congresswoman did not stick around for the vote, boarding an airplane for a “fact finding mission” in Yemen before her pet project could be voted upon. Before leaving, she said she had a sense her amendment was doomed.
Let’s hope she gets that feeling again soon.
If you would like to express your opinion to Rep. Betty McCollum, her Washington DC office may be contacted by phone at (202) 225-6631, or via fax at (202) 225-1968. She is also on Facebook -- www.facebook.com/repbettymccollum -- and on Twitter: @BettyMcCollum04. Please conduct yourself in a manner that reflects positively on our sport.