Their amendment to a $608 billion Defense appropriations bill would prohibit Defense Department sponsorships of professional or semi-professional auto racing, wrestling, fishing and mixed martial arts events. It passed on a voice vote last week and is headed to the House floor, where a virtually identical proposal was soundly defeated, 281-148, last year.
“The government borrows forty cents for every dollar it spends and this is where we’re spending it?” asked Kingston. “In the face of deep cuts and troop force reductions, the military should not be spending nearly $100 million sponsoring professional sports.”
Friday, McCollum’s office issued a press release entitled, “National Guard’s $26 Million Sponsoring NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Results in ZERO Recruits; Wasting Taxpayer Money Subsidizing NASCAR Must Stop.” In it, McCollum expressed “outrage and disbelief at the level of waste in the National Guard’s recruitment budget.”
Maj. Brian Creech, resource and contracts manager for the National Guard recruiting division, told USA Today’s Dustin Long Friday that Julius & Associates reported that the National Guard received $68 million in television exposure last year through its sponsorship of Earnhardt, and that that more than 5.5 million pieces of branded merchandise were sold.
McCollum correctly stated that the National Guard spent $26.5 million to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet in 20912, and a total of 136.14 million over the last five years. She called Earnhardt “the highest paid military contractor in professional sports.”
Unfortunately, McCollum’s release takes a few liberties with the facts. While Earnhardt does own a race team – the JR Motorsports NASCAR Nationwide Series team – it is not sponsored by the National Guard. The object of McCollum and Kingston’s ire is Hendrick Motorsports, and while targeting NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver is an effective means of garnering media attention, McCollum would be heard-pressed to produce even a single cancelled check with Earnhardt’s name on it.
That’s a far cry from “the highest paid military contractor in professional sports.”
Beyond mere semantics, Rep. McCollum calls the Pentagon’s NASCAR sponsorships “particularly outrageous in light of the fact that last week House Republicans voted to kick 200,000 low-income kids out of the school lunch program and eliminate funding for “Meals on Wheels” for home-bound seniors.”
“The Pentagon,” she said, “can painlessly absorb some serious budget cuts.”
Unfortunately, the McCollum/Kingston amendment includes not a single penny in Defense Department budget cuts. Instead, it merely specifies where the Pentagon cannot spend its money. If Reps. McCollum and Kingston were truly interested in slashing the budget – and not just basking in the media spotlight generated by one of America’s most popular athletes – they would surely have included at least one significant budget cut in their amendment.
For his part, Earnhardt invited Kingston to attend a NASCAR race to better understand why both the National Guard and US Army are spending their recruitment dollars in the sport. ““Just because he’s a Republican from Georgia, he should have seen a NASCAR race by now,” said Earnhardt to The Charlotte Observer Friday. “Talk to the people that are at the particular races and see what the experience is like for them. See how the Guard utilizes their program and their marketing within the sport.
“I would encourage them to do more homework, get more facts (and) understand the situation a little more,” said Earnhardt. “If he hasn’t been to a race, he’s not seen it firsthand. Then he can make his decision.”
Photo Credit: CarAndDriver.com, zimbio.com