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April 5, 2013 | By | Posted in WatchBlog

WATCHBLOG: Phillies, Pirates ownership spent $274K on 2012 election cycle

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Maybe our national pastime is politics.

A new report from the Sunlight Foundation released this week to coincide with the start of the 2013 Major League Baseball season found that owners and employees of professional baseball teams are no slouches when it comes to political donations.

BIG HITTERS: The Phillies outpaced the Pirates when it came to political giving in 2012.

BIG HITTERS: The Phillies outpaced the Pirates when it came to political giving in 2012.

All told, franchises dropped more than $24 million into political coffers during the 2012 election cycle.

The Philadelphia Phillies have held a decided edge over their cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Pirates in recent years on the field (though the Pirates have five world championships to the Phillies’ two), and they were the clear winners in the political contribution game as well.

Phillies’ owners and employees gave $246,000 in political contributions during 2012, with part-owner John Middleton writing more than $120,000 of those checks.

It is perhaps no surprise that Middleton, who made his fortune as the owner of a cigar company, gave exclusively to Republican candidates and causes.  He wrote a $50,000 check to Gov. Tom Corbett (who wasn’t even up for re-election last year) and made another $50,000 donation to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Middleton also gave more than $55,000 to the Republican National Committee and donated $25,000 to Dave Freed’s ill-fated run for state attorney general.

Pittsburgh Pirates’ owners only put $28,000 into the 2012 election cycle, with $7,500 going to Romney and the Republican National Committee while the rest was donated to Major League Baseball’s political wing.

So which team won the title for the most political giving? How about the team that has had the hardest time winning anything else.

The Chicago Cubs have gone without a World Series title since 1908, but in 2012 they dropped $13.9 million into political war chests.

Republicans outpaced Democrats by more than 3-to-1 in MLB-based contributions, with the GOP netting $18.4 million to the Democrats $4.2 million. More than half of the report’s catalog of spending came from the Cubs, our Watchdog.org colleague Carten Cordell reported this week.

Some teams, like the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers, have ownerships that are decidedly conservative. Others, like Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Houston Astros owner  Jim Crane, remain large Democratic contributors, and then teams run by a collective of owners — like the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants — are equally split on political giving.

All those contributions can really pay off.

The Phillies and Pirates both received brand new stadiums that were partially paid for by taxpayers within the last decade, part of more than $1 billion in stadium subsidies the taxpayers of Pennsylvania have paid for since 1999.

And they have hardly been the only recipients of political gifts – 22 of the 30 teams in MLB have built new stadiums since 1991, with nearly all of them paid for in part by taxpayers.

Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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