Pen­tagon used tax­payer cash for ‘paid pa­tri­o­tism’

$6.8 mil­lion for tributes at sports events

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Sen­a­tors ac­cused the Pen­tagon and top sports leagues Wed­nes­day of us­ing tax­pay­ers’ money to pay for some of the cer­e­monies hon­or­ing U.S. troops that have be­come sta­ples of big-time Amer­i­can sport­ing events in a prac­tice the law­mak­ers dubbed “paid pa­tri­o­tism.”

One base­ball team charged the Na­tional Guard nearly $50,000 for a con­tract that spon­sored the weekly singing of “God Bless Amer­ica,” while other teams charged the mil­i­tary for con­tracts that in­cluded car­ry­ing the Amer­i­can flag dur­ing the na­tional an­them.

Av­er­age fans prob­a­bly thought the leagues and teams were cel­e­brat­ing the armed forces of their own do­ing and that tick­ets and other recog­ni­tion of the troops were paid for out of the own­ers’ pock­ets. But, in re­al­ity, the Pen­tagon spent at least $6.8 mil­lion in tax­pay­ers’ money on con­tracts that in­cluded at least some staged pa­tri­otic events, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake con­cluded.

“To find out the tax­payer is pay­ing for it, it cheap­ens the whole lot,” Mr. Flake said. The is­sue is al­ready be­ing dealt with. Mr. McCain and Mr. Flake at­tached a pro­vi­sion to the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill that for­bids the Pen­tagon or Na­tional Guard units from pay­ing for events where they are hon­ored. Pres­i­dent Obama ve­toed that bill last month over un­re­lated spend­ing fights, but the sen­a­tors said Congress is about to pro­duce a new ver­sion that will con­tain the same re­stric­tion — and they pre­dicted Mr. Obama will sign that one.

Af­ter the sen­a­tors be­gan their in­ves­ti­ga­tion this fall, Pen­tagon of­fi­cials changed their own pro­ce­dures, in­sist­ing any bigticket con­tracts get ap­proval from high­erups, and de­mand­ing af­ter-ac­tion re­ports on events that cost more than $10,000.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials de­fended some of the events as part of big­ger drives to find new mil­i­tary re­cruits, and said they were pay­ing for mar­ket­ing or pro­mo­tions, not for the hon­ors be­stowed on troops.

For their part, the sports leagues have told the sen­a­tors they will try to weed out the prac­tice from their end, sig­nal­ing that they want to honor troops with­out mak­ing tax­pay­ers pay for it.

In a let­ter dated Mon­day, Na­tional Foot­ball League Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell said he was launch­ing an au­dit of teams’ con­tracts with the mil­i­tary to find out what had hap­pened.

“If we find that in­ap­pro­pri­ate pay­ments were made, they will be re­funded in full. We will share the re­sults of this re­view with you,” he wrote the two Ari­zona sen­a­tors.

He also said the NFL takes se­ri­ously its role in hon­or­ing the sac­ri­fices of troops, and said that “should never be a com­mer­cial trans­ac­tion.”

The sen­a­tors said the leagues and teams do a vast amount of good work for the mil­i­tary, and said the in­stances of paid pa­tri­o­tism shouldn’t de­tract from that.

Mr. McCain also said the teams and leagues co­op­er­ated with the sen­a­tors’ re­quests — but he said that wasn’t true for the Pen­tagon, which pro­vided only par­ti­san data. Sen­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tors had to un­cover for them­selves about a third of the ques­tion­able con­tracts.

And there are po­ten­tially more con­tracts still undis­cov­ered, they said, which could raise the to­tal amount of tax­payer money even higher, Mr. McCain said.

The sen­a­tors’ 146-page re­port iden­ti­fied 18 NFL teams that had con­tracts in­clud­ing at least some ques­tion­able paid stag­ing; 10 Ma­jor League Base­ball teams; eight Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion teams; eight Ma­jor League Soc­cer teams; and six Na­tional Hockey League teams.

NASCAR and three uni­ver­si­ties — In­di­ana Univer­sity, Pur­due Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin — were also named.

In the Wash­ing­ton area, just one team was listed in the re­port. The D.C. Air Na­tional Guard paid $25,000 to the D.C. United soc­cer team for 10 tick­ets to a game.

Most of the con­tracts were be­tween leagues and teams and Army Na­tional Guard units. The NFL’s New York Jets col­lected $20,000 for a “Home­town Hero” video fea­ture on lo­cal guard troops, for ex­am­ple.

And the Wis­con­sin Na­tional Guard paid $49,000 for a con­tract that in­cluded spon­sor­ing the sign­ing of “God Bless Amer­ica” at the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers’ Sun­day base­ball games.

But the ser­vice branches them­selves were also in­volved, in­clud­ing the Air Force pay­ing the L.A. Gal­axy soc­cer team to rec­og­nize five high-rank­ing of­fi­cers at a 2012 game and to se­cure four side­line sea­son tick­ets.

Asked about the is­sue, White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest said he wasn’t sure whether Pres­i­dent Obama “has care­fully con­sid­ered” the is­sue. He said it’s “ap­pro­pri­ate” for crowds at sport­ing events to ap­plaud ser­vice mem­bers in an “au­then­tic ges­ture” to honor their ser­vice.

“That is sep­a­rate and apart from what I think is a more il­log­i­cal financial trans­ac­tion be­tween the Depart­ment of De­fense and teams for things like sig­nage or other ad­ver­tis­ing that could en­hance the mil­i­tary’s abil­ity to re­cruit,” he said.

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