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No close call here: NFL's political donations tilt GOP

The Sunlight Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing transparency in government.

The National Football League bigwigs who early this morning conceded defeat in an ongoing labor dispute - after a week in which their internal politics have been on embarrassing display - like to play politics themselves, and tend to favor the party with the most adversarial relationship with unions.

Checking for contributions from the NFL's 32 teams, the Sunlight Foundation found that employees, including players, owners and staff, have pumped more than $1.5 million into the political sphere in 2011-12. That money, however, did not distribute equally; Republicans received nearly three times as much from donors associated with football teams as did Democrats.

On the one hand, that's not surprising in the context of the league's long-running battle with its referees over salary and retirement benefits, since Democrats tend to favor labor unions and vice versa. On the other, it is an interesting trend to see that owners of a league so reliant on a practice like revenue sharing (and you say income redistribution?) give so predominantly to Republicans.

The players (union members themselves) have generally stuck to Democrats so far in this campaign cycle.

Among the more prolific givers:

The Bidwell family, owners of the Arizona Cardinals. The Bidwells made about 40 donations totaling more than $230,000 to many high-profile Republicans, including Mitt Romney, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. However, Michael Bidwell, son of franchise owner Bill, also gave to long-time Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz.

The Dallas Cowboy's ownership Charismatic general manager Jerry Jones handed out tens of thousands his daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, and other members of the family donated generously to the state's Republican lieutenant governor -- and recently failed Senate candidate -- David Dewhurst, in addition to other Republican congressmen.

Tim Rooney, an executive for the Pittsburgh Steelers, gave $5,000 to Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., the grandson of Steelers founder Art Rooney - and Tim's nephew. Steeler owner Dan Rooney, meanwhile, an early supporter of President Obama, who was rewarded with an an appointment to the ambassadorship of Ireland, gave $35,000 to the boss' reelection campaign.

Bruce Allen, general manager of the Washington Redskins, is backing brother George Allen, the Republican Senate candidate in Virginia. The ex- (and, he hopes, future) senator has gotten even more generous support from Tanya Snyder, wife of team owner Daniel Snyder. Tanya Snyder also gave money to former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain.

(Ed.: Eagles owners Jeffrey Lurie and wife Christina backed GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman in November with a $2,500 donation, but have since given their support to Democrats U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, Massachusetts  U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, according to Sunlight's Influence Explorer)

Many high profile players have contributed to President Obama's re-election effort, such as New York Giants' defensive back Antrel Rolle and New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans, each contributing $10,000 to the Obama Victory Fund.

Heading in the opposite direction, ideologically, was veteran quarterback Peyton Manning and his wife Ashley. They gave more than $12,000 to his home state's senator, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., as well as Dick Lugar, R-Tenn., the senator of Manning's former team, the Indianapolis Colts.

And one player bucked that trend entirely, as former Baltimore Ravens defensive back Chris Carr has made contributions to both Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the libertarian favorite and former GOP presidential candidate, and to Revolution PAC, the super PAC that has supported him.

During the current election cycle, NFL employees have given more than $270,000 to the NFL's political action committee. It has spent about $730,000 on political causes. These contributions split party lines fairly evenly, with Republican candidates receiving a slight edge. The PAC has made donations to high-profile politicians in close races, such as Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and President Obama.

The NFL lobbies on a variety of matters including labor issues, broadcasting rights, and retirement.

As it turns out, retirement is one of the major hitches in the NFL-referee negotiations; the officials demand a fixed pension, while the owners think a 401(k) plan would be more appropriate. Most fans, meanwhile, appear to be more concerned with the retirement of the replacement referees.

And the labor dispute did produce a rare moment of political harmony on the campaign trail: Both Obama and his GOP rival, Mitt Romney, called for a return of the regular referees.