National Guard, $72.3 million in tax money, and sports sponsorships. Two amendments to the Defense Appropriations bill, one by Republican Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) and a second by Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) failed to cut funding for National Guard sports advertising as a tool for National Guard recruitment. The vote means Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his racing team will likely continue to receive $26.5 million from taxpayers per year to have the words “National Guard” on his car and racing attire.
McCollum once called Earnhardt, “the highest paid military contractor in professional sports,” as a result.
The National Guard has paid Dale Earnhardt’s racing team $126 million since 2000 to advertise and help recruit. McCollum said on the House floor that “zero actual recruits” have signed up as a result of the money being spent.
Kingston argued the effort costs a spellbinding $700,000 per recruit. No one is asserting there has been a sizeable increase in recruitment as a result of the sponsorships.
At a time when Congress is cutting food stamps and the $15 trillion dollar debt, many Kingston’s amendment to cut $72.3 million for the National Guard to advertise through sports failed 202-216 last night. The military sponsorships include advertising at bass fishing tournaments, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and NASCAR.
Kingston made the argument that the demographic of NASCAR fans is wrong for the advertising being paid for and that there is no proof of success. Sixty-nine percent of the NASCAR audience is 35 and over said Kingston. “Nearly 70% of the people aren’t eligible,” Kingston pointed out.
“If someone is going to sign away five or six years of their life, it’s going to take more than an ad on an automobile,” Kingston said at a press conference on his amendment. The National Guard continues with sports advertising as other service branches have dropped out. The Army dropped the idea of recruiting via NASCAR promotion. The Navy and Marine Corp also pulled out.
The National Guard has also spent $20 million in two years on bass fishing tournaments. “Bass fishing is not a national security issue” McCollum said on the House floor. “This Congress is cutting services to communities and needy families because we’re in a fiscal crisis,” McCollum added, “yet the Pentagon is spending in excess of $80 million on NASCAR racing sponsorships… the program is a waste of taxpayer money it doesn’t work.”
“The National Guard has seen a return on their investment,” including $68 million in media exposure argued Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) on the floor. McHenry favored spending the money. He made the point that point “good will” was an important factor in the sponsorships.
A statement from NASCAR after the vote said: “Leaving marketing decisions like these in the hands of a select few members of Congress is misguided. Today’s vote continues to protect the ability of our nation’s military to have access to the same sports marketing platforms as other leading brands.”
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Managing Editor, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She can be heard every Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WPFW 89.3 every Friday at 6:30 p.m. Ms. Burke is a former employee of USAToday.com and ABC News. You can e-mail her at LBurke007@gmail.com follow her on twitter @Crewof42.