News & Media

House defeats proposed military sponsor ban

July 19, 2012, David Caraviello,

A proposal to end military sponsorship of major sporting events was defeated in a vote of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday night, ensuring that service branches can continue to use leagues such as NASCAR as a recruiting tool.

An amendment introduced by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) attempted to prohibit the military from spending public funds on sports sponsorships, such as the No. 88 car driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. that is backed by the National Guard. A similar measure authored by McCollum had failed twice previously, and the Kingston-McCollum amendment was initially defeated by a voice vote. But McCollum demanded a recorded vote, which occurred Wednesday night, where the measure was defeated by a narrow 216-202 margin.

"The most popular driver in NASCAR drives the National Guard car. ... We don't need to strike that relationship. We need to build on that."


On Monday, NASCAR and four other major sports leagues -- the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and IndyCar Series -- sent an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asking him to help ensure the amendment was not adopted. In addition to the National Guard's presence, the Air Force is also an associate sponsor on Aric Almirola's No. 43 car at Richard Petty Motorsports. The amendment was part of a much larger $608 billion Dept. of Defense appropriations bill for 2013.

Earlier Wednesday, House members vigorously debated the merits of military sponsorships in sports. Kingston, whose district includes Savannah, quoted published figures stating that the National Guard spent $26.5 million to back Earnhardt's car at Hendrick Motorsports in 2010, but that the money produced no actual recruits. He also claimed that NASCAR audiences aren't an ideal target of military recruitment, because 69 percent of the sport's fan base is over the maximum age for enlistment.

"I'm as pro-military as they get," Kingston said on the House floor. "... and the only thing that's a bigger population [in my district] than my military are my NASCAR fans. And yet [what] they're saying to me is, we're pro-NASCAR, but ... we can spend this money a lot better than we are today."

McCollum used the Army's recent decision to withdraw as sponsor of Ryan Newman's car at Stewart-Haas Racing after this season as evidence that military sponsorship doesn't work. "Over the past few days, professional sports have come out in full force to protect their taxpayer-funded subsidy," she said. "For the purposes of the 2013 defense appropriations bill, those pro teams are military contractors, who have failed to deliver on their contract in the past with the taxpayers for recruits."

But Kingston and McCollum were the only members of the House who spoke in favor of the amendment, and they were outnumbered by those rising in opposition. Foremost in that group was Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C), whose district includes the Mooresville area where many NASCAR race shops are based. He argued that the National Guard saw a 300 percent return on its investment when factors like media exposure and apparel sales are factored in.

"This is a huge return for the buck," he said. "This is why Fortune 500 companies actually advertise through NASCAR. Not because it feels good, but because it delivers results. And the fact is, no matter the size of the military, you're still going to need recruits."

McHenry also called it inappropriate for Congress to get involved in where the military spends its recruiting dollars. "Let's face it," he said. "When we start micromanaging advertising programs to try to recruit National Guard members, we've sort of slipped into the absurd."

McHenry was one of seven lawmakers to speak out against the amendment, and several of those had direct ties to NASCAR country. Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), whose district includes Concord and Rockingham, lauded the National Guard's connection to Earnhardt. "The most popular driver in NASCAR drives the National Guard car," he said. "... We don't need to strike that relationship. We need to build on that."

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) referenced the car numbers often seen in bumper stickers as proof of how connected NASCAR is with taxpayers and the military. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) mentioned the technological link between NASCAR and the military, saying NASCAR engineers helped improve the suspension of the armored Humvees, and that Marine mine rollers pushed in front of trucks benefitted from improved suspension designed by Joe Gibbs Racing. Striking down military sponsorships, he added, could be a step toward ending other programs like the Marine Corps Marathon and the Blue Angels.

"A vote for this amendment," Sanford said, "is a vote against the effectiveness of our military."

Several lawmakers argued that restricting the military's ability to recruit could cost the country more money in the long run, since service branches have to pay larger bonuses if recruitment goals are not met. "I'm also a conservative who believes in rooting out government waste," said Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), whose district includes Charlotte, "but that's not what this amendment does. Because in the long run, we end up spending more money on recruitment."

Earlier Wednesday, McCollum also introduced an amendment that would have eliminated funding for military bands. As with the proposed sponsorship ban, it was also defeated, initially by a voice vote and later in a recorded vote. In both cases, Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) argued to let the military control its recruiting. "I say let the military run the recruiting," he said, "as they have done all of these years to maintain an all-volunteer force."

Wednesday's vote on military sponsorships was much closer than McCollum's two attempts last year, when similar measures went down 281-148 and 260-167. The defeat of Wednesday's amendment does not affect the recent decision by the Army to pull out as a NASCAR sponsor, which was announced July 10 because of what the branch called a "reallocation" of marketing funds that "will not include a presence in NASCAR." The Army's departure after this season will mark the end of a decade-long run in the sport.