McCain, Flake slam 'paid patriotism' at sporting events

A new report from two Republican senators slams the Pentagon for paying $6.8 million to the NFL and other sports leagues for patriotic events.

Arizona GOP Sens. John McCainJohn McCainCruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed Trump promises ‘new deal for Black America’ Endangered GOP senator: I don't know for whom I'll vote MORE and Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeReport: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas High anxiety for GOP Five takeaways from final debate MORE slam the activities as “paid patriotism.”

The pair examined 122 contracts between the Pentagon and various sports leagues, including $49,000 for the Wisconsin Army National Guard to sponsor performances of “God Bless America” at Milwaukee Brewers games; $20,000 for the New York Jets to honor one to two New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers as hometown heroes at each home game; and $1,500 to honor five Air Force officers at an LA Galaxy game.

“All these major league sports teams do a lot of good work for the military, a lot of good work, that dwarves anything in these contracts,” Flake said at a press conference promoting the report.

“What is upsetting is that when you see activities like this that people assume when they go games are paid for out of the goodness of the heart by the owners and the teams, then to find out the taxpayer’s paying for it, it kind of cheapens the whole lot, and that’s simply not right,” he said.

Paying for these activities would be outlawed by the National Defense Authorization Act coming to the House floor this week.

Separately, the NFL has promised to conduct an audit and reimburse any inappropriate payments it finds, while the Pentagon has promised to stop paying for such activities.

“We look forward to working with you to resolve this issue,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to McCain and Flake. “Our relationship with the National Guard, the various branches of the military, our veterans and the families of our service men and women is of deep importance to the league.”

In talking about the issue, McCain and Flake placed blame on the Defense Department, who they said obfuscated their investigation and “should know better” than to use taxpayer money to pay for events honoring people in uniform.

The owners and managers of the sports teams, meanwhile, did not even know in some cases that the Pentagon was being charged for the activities, since marketing departments handled the contracts, the pair said.

The $6.8 million is the total value of the marketing contracts that include the activities McCain and Flake believe shouldn’t be paid for. Some of those contracts also included activities the pair considers legitimate marketing expenses, such as recruitment tents at games.

The pair of senators said it is difficult to estimate just how much the Pentagon has spent for patriotic events, and they faulted the Department of Defense for not providing some contracts.

Asked why the events he was criticizing shouldn't be considered legitimate marketing expenses, McCain said, “I don’t think it seems that way to the American people that when you honor the men and women who are serving and for their sacrifice that should be paid for that. It’s really not much more complicated than that.”