The NBA's corporate sponsors donated $3.3 million to reelect politicians rated "F" by the NAACP

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The NBA's top corporate sponsors have donated $3.3 million over the last two years to support the reelection of members of Congress who received an "F" rating by the NAACP, the nation's largest civil rights organization. 

NBA sponsors, including Google, AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, State Farm, and American Express, enhance their corporate image and profile through their association with NBA players. Their logos are emblazoned on uniforms and displayed on the court. Their commercials are aired during breaks in play. But their political giving is out of step with a league that, since the resumption of play in Orlando, has aggressively embraced racial justice. 

In the wake of George Floyd's murder, NBA players made clear that they would only resume play if issues of racism, police brutality, and criminal justice reform were featured by the league. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in a June 24 statement, agreed it would be a priority.

The league and the players are uniquely positioned to have a direct impact on combating systemic racism in our country, and we are committed to collective action to build a more equal and just society. 

In the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World, "Black Lives Matter" is printed in large block letters at midcourt. Players can feature a social justice message on the back of their uniforms. And the players' advocacy is highlighted in public service announcements during games. The NBA also established a new foundation dedicated to "driving greater economic opportunity and empowerment in the Black community."

But after Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, players — led by the Milwaukee Bucks — refused to play. Players, frustrated at the pace of change, put the playoffs on hold. It was a historic act of protest.

Games resumed four days later after the players negotiated a key concession. Team owners agreed to "work with local elections officials to convert" NBA arenas "into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID."

The players' focus on voting access is savvy. It reflects the fact that things are not changing because there are too many people in power who oppose change. The country as a whole has not implemented reforms that could curb police brutality because many officeholders oppose those reforms. To change the status quo, America needs new leadership. 

But voting access is only part of the issue. Incumbents cling to power by amassing large campaign war chests, which are often inflated by donations from corporate PACs. Many of the NBA's top sponsors are bankrolling candidates that, if they win reelection, will adamantly oppose the players' agenda. 

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) is locked in a tight battle for reelection. In an interview with Fox News, Ernst said Black Lives Matter protesters were "not actually looking for solutions, they’re just trying to be provocative." Ernst has a 7% rating from the NAACP. But she has received contributions from numerous NBA corporate sponsors including Anheuser-Busch ($10,000), Google ($7,500), Exxon ($5,000), AT&T ($3,000), AutoTrader.com ($1,500), PepsiCo ($1,000), and American Express ($1,000).

The league's sponsors are trying to have it both ways. They benefit from their association with NBA players, who are increasingly admired not just for their athletic skills but also for their social advocacy. At the same time, they are supporting politicians who oppose the change the players demand. 

AT&T: More than $1.1 million to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP

AT&T is the official wireless sponsor of the NBA and has one of the biggest sponsorship deals with the NBA. Since June, the company has publicly endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement, claiming that it has “a moral and business obligation to engage on this fundamental issue of equality and fairness.” The company’s logo is plastered beside the words “Black Lives Matter” on many court floors.

And yet, during the 2019-2020 election cycle, AT&T donated $1,165,000 to 170 members of the House and 39 members of the Senate rated “F” by the NAACP. 

Among its corporate PAC recipients is Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), who scored 7% on the NAACP’s Report Card. In June, Cotton called for the deployment of federal troops to combat Black Lives Matter protestors. Since then, Cotton has compared protestors to “insurrectionists who seceded from the union” and described slavery as a “necessary evil upon which the union was built.” AT&T gave Cotton $3,000. 

AT&T’s corporate PAC has also donated $2500 to Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who, though not yet ranked by the NAACP, has said she adamantly opposes the Black Lives Matter movement. 

ExxonMobil: $639,800 to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP

ExxonMobil's motor oil brand, Mobil 1, is the official motor oil of the NBA

Nothing beats Mobil 1 in overall performance. And nothing beats the NBA when it comes to basketball...Bonded by a dedication to high performance, ExxonMobil and the Mobil 1 brand are proud to partner with the NBA. The NBA relationship adds to ExxonMobil’s portfolio of international sports and sporting event partnerships.

During the 2019-2020 election cycle, ExxonMobil has donated $639,800 to 129 members of the House and 20 members of the Senate rated “F” by the NAACP. Exxon Mobil gave the $10,000 legal maximum to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), who during her 2018 special election campaign, she said she would be willing to attend a lynching. Since arriving in the Senate, Hyde-Smith has earned a 7% rating from the NAACP.

Google: $447,000 to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP

Google, through its YouTube TV subsidiary, is the official streaming service of the NBA and the presenting sponsor of the NBA Finals. Under the terms of the multi-year deal, YouTube TV is "will be featured prominently during all NBA Finals games."

During the 2019-2020 election cycle, Google has donated $447,000 to 80 members of the House and 26 members of the Senate rated “F” by the NAACP. Google donated $9,000 to Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) who called the phrase "Black Lives Matter" a "cliche," and complained that "no matter how much you say that, you still see the signs up there that say 'Black Lives Matter.'" He played a key role in watering down a legislative provision that would have prevented the Pentagon from providing military gear to civilian police departments. Inhofe has a 7% rating from the NAACP. 

Autotrader.com: $290,000 to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP

Autotrader.com, a Cox Automotive brand that is a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises, is another major NBA sponsor and the “official car search engine of the NBA.” For 16 seasons, Autotrader.com has been the presenting sponsor of “NBA on TNT Premiere Week,” “TNT NBA Tip Off,” and all NBA TV pregame shows. Cox touts that it is “proud of its longstanding support of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights” and the National Urban League. “Discrimination has no home in our hearts or our company,” wrote Cox Enterprises in a statement.  

During the 2019-2020 cycle, Cox Enterprises donated $290,000 to 60 members of the House and 20 members of the Senate rated “F” by the NAACP. Cox Enterprises contributed $3,000 to Wisconsin Senator Ronald Johnson (R-WI), who refused to condemn Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with murdering two people at a police brutality protest, in an interview this past weekend. Johnson has a 7% rating from the NAACP.

State Farm: $220,500 to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP

State Farm is the official insurance provider of the NBA and its commercials, featuring NBA Player's Union president Chris Paul, are ubiquitous during games. 

During the 2019-2020 election cycle, State Farm has donated $220,500 to 55 members of the House and 19 members of the Senate rated “F” by the NAACP. State Farm gave $6,000 to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), who said in a recent Congressional hearing that he does not believe systemic racism exists in American society. Cornyn has a 7% rating from the NAACP.

American Express: $205,500 to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP

American Express is the official "payment service" of the NBA and features its partnership in TV ads.

The company has publicly pledged to "fight racial injustice" and donated $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund. 

During the 2019-2020 election cycle, American Express has donated $205,500 to 41 members of the House and 18 members of the Senate rated “F” by the NAACP. American Express has donated the legal maximum of $10,000 to Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). Tillis has derided Black Lives Matter protests as “abolish the police” riots, opposes police reform, and has a 0% rating by the NAACP.

Anheuser-Busch: $131,000 to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP

Anheuser-Busch is the official beer partner of the NBA, which allows the company to display NBA team logos on its products. Anheuser-Busch, through its corporate PAC, donated $131,000 to 20 members of the House and 7 members of the Senate rated “F” by the NAACP. 

Five other league sponsors who donated to politicians rated "F" by the NAACP.

There are five other NBA sponsors who donated to politicians rated "F" by the NAACP. They are: Nike ($56,500), Pepsico ($53,979), MGM Resorts ($47,500), Taco Bell ($31,600), and SAP ($7,000).

(Popular Information’s full list of the contributions by NBA sponsors to politicians rated “F” by the NAACP is available HERE.)


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