ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Magic caused a stir in the political world this week.
Federal Election Commission records show the Orlando Magic gave $50,000 to Never Back Down, the super PAC that supports Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign.
The Magic maintain the donation was made before DeSantis entered the race formally. The team released the following statement:
A spokesperson said the check was dated and delivered on May 19. DeSantis formally entered the race on May 24. Multiple news outlets, including CBS News, were reporting about DeSantis’ plan for a formal campaign launch on May 18.
It’s not the first time The Orlando Magic has given money to DeSantis’ political campaigns. In 2022, the team gave a $25,000 donation to Empower Parents PAC, which used to be known as “Friends of Ron DeSantis,” according to Florida Division of Elections records.
Never Back Down, an independent super PAC that supports the DeSantis campaign, filed with the FEC in February. Some $82 million in funds from Empower Parents PAC, which is now inactive, was transferred to Never Back Down, according to FEC records.
The NBA Players Association issued a statement Thursday, criticizing the Magic’s donation to Never Back Down.
“NBA governors, players and personnel have the right to express their personal political views, including through donations and statements,” The NBPA wrote. “However, if contributions are made on behalf of an entire team, using money earned through the labor of its employees, it is incumbent upon the team governors to consider the diverse values and perspectives of staff and players.”
It’s not uncommon for sports teams to donate to political campaigns as an organization, but they tend to be elections for local candidates like city mayors or congressmen.
After all, local governments approve stadium deals, and state and even federal governments may have business that goes before a state legislature or even the U.S. House or Senate.
“More than most private businesses, sports teams depend on the taxpayers, and they want to maintain good relationships with government leaders,” said News 6 political analyst Dr. Jim Clark. “Taxpayers build stadiums and arenas and politicians control the purse strings. Currently, Orange County is considering authorizing $250 million in tourist tax money for improvements to the Amway Arena which will benefit the Orlando Magic.”
When it comes to national candidates or groups, donations from sports team organizations tend to be few and far between.
We looked up all of the NBA teams on the FEC’s campaign finance database, and found only four teams had entries.
Aside from Never Back Down, the Magic donated to two PACs in 2014 and 2016, as well as the congressional campaign for Democrat Linda Chapin in 2000. The donation to Never Back Down was by far the most.
The Phoenix Suns also had four donations to that Republican committee, between 1994 and 2000.
We also checked some other professional sports teams too — The New York Giants have an entry from 1996 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
We found no entries for the New England Patriots or the Kansas City Chiefs, or the New York Yankees or the San Francisco 49ers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers gave $10,000 in 2022 to the Latino Victory Fund, but the only other entry was to the RNC state elections committee in 2000.
We also took a look at every major Florida-based professional sports team. Here’s what we found.
In addition to the four entries on the FEC database, we also checked to see how the Magic donated in state and local elections.
According to the Division of Elections, for the 2022 election the Magic donated $29,050. The majority of the money went to political action committees, except for a $1,000 donation to Republican Daniel Perez. The largest donation was the $25,000 to Empower Parents (formerly Friends of Ron DeSantis).
At the Orange County government level, the Magic donated $1,000 to Mayor Jerry Demings in 2022. The Orange County supervisor of elections office lists over two dozen donations to various candidates going back to 2014.
The Miami Heat have no donations listed under the team’s name on the FEC database.
The Heat also have no donations listed for 2022 on the Florida Division of Elections website.
The Miami Marlins have no donations listed under the team’s name on the FEC database.
The Marlins also have no donations listed for 2022 on the Florida Division of Elections website.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Tampa Bay Rays have one listing on the FEC database for $5,000 in 2018 to a super PAC labeled “SMP.”
The Rays also made three donations to the Republican Party of Florida for a total of $67,125, in 2021 and 2022, according to state records.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have one listing on the FEC database for 1998, for $2,000 to the 1998 Rep H/S Dinner Trust.
On the state database, the Jaguars have 18 listings for the 2022 election cycle, totaling $343,120. All of them are to PACs, including Duval Citizens for Better Schools, Florida Freedom PAC, JAX Good Government and Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign.
The Miami Dolphins have several listings in the FEC database. The most recent one was in 2020 to a PAC called South Florida Residents First for $10,000.
After that, all of the other entries took place in 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1993.
The Florida Division of Elections database shows the Dolphins made four donations for $122,000 in 2022 election cycle. It includes a $100,000 donation for Leadership of Broward PAC, a $20,000 donation for Mark PC PAC, and $1,000 each to Democrats Shevrin Jones and Kevin Chambliss.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have only one entry in the FEC database, from 2020, to a PAC called Fair Fight.
The Bucs have only one listing in the Florida database for the 2022 election cycle, for a PAC called Clearpac, for $30. The team gave the exact same donation in 2020, records shows.
The Florida Panthers hockey team has one listing in the FEC database for 2012, for $10,000 to South Floridians for Effective Leadership.
The Panthers have no campaign donation listings for the 2022 election cycle, according to Florida records. There are two donations for the 2020 cycle, for Republican Chip LaMarca ($500) and Democrat Joshua David Rydell ($1,000).
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The Tampa Bay Lightning have no team donations in the FEC database.
The Lightning also have no donations listed in Florida state records for the 2022 or 2020 election cycles.
What about owners?
While team donations may be sparse, owner donations are another matter.
The owners of the Orlando Magic, the DeVos family, are famously conservative, donating to conservative political causes and candidates. Betsy DeVos was secretary of education under former President Donald Trump, resigning after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
DeVos and Gov. DeSantis also hold the same public education philosophies, from school vouchers to reforming curriculum to removing so-called “woke” elements and embracing a “classical” education.
None of the DeVos family members themselves, including Richard DeVos, Jr., Betsy DeVos or Daniel DeVos, have donated to Never Back Down or Ron DeSantis’ campaign directly yet, according to FEC records.
Between 2018 and 2022, DeVos family members have donated more than $300,000 to either DeSantis or his PAC for his two successful runs for Florida governor, according to state records.
Several DeVos families members have also donated to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s reelection campaign this year, according to City of Orlando records.
Other Florida sports team owners have also donated to political candidates of both parties.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross donated at least $200,000 to DeSantis’ PAC during his run for governor in 2022, and another $100,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, according to state records.
He’s donated to both Democrats and Republicans at the federal level, according to the FEC.
Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik supported Charlie Crist for governor in 2022, according to state records. Otherwise, he’s supported both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, particularly Tampa area candidates. He donated to Marco Rubio’s and Rick Scott’s senate campaigns, according to the FEC database.
He also supported President Joe Biden in 2020.
Neither Joel Glazer nor Bryan Glazer, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, donated to state races in 2018 or 2022, though according to FEC records, they did support Rick Scott for the U.S. Senate and Charlie Crist for Congress in the past. They also supported an NFL PAC called Gridiron-PAC.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg supported no state candidates in 2022, according to Florida Division of Election records. He did donate to Andrew Gillum for governor in 2018.
According to the FEC, Sternberg made donations to Democratic federal candidates, or to a Major League Baseball PAC.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has only donated to the GridIron PAC federally.
At the state level, he donated to a PAC called Build Something That Lasts in the 2018 cycle, and to State Senator and future agricultural commissioner Wilton Simpson.
Miami Heat owner Micky Arison has also supported Democrats and Republicans at the federal level, though his recent donations have been to Florida Republicans.
State records show one donation to a Democrat for office in 2022, Alessandro D’Amico, for $1,000.
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