NFL executes lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill

NFL players Pete Kendall, Jeff Saturday and Jason Wright took their game to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lobby Congress for a new labor contract, stressing the economic impact shutting down the NFL would have on local communities.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2011; 1:43 AM

Forget Troy Polamalu and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Business-suited, briefcase-carrying Washington lobbyists have formed the NFL's most formidable defense in recent years.

Seeking to curry favor, cajole and educate to protect the nation's most popular pastime - and the $9 billion it generates annually - NFL-funded lobbyists have rushed the halls of Congress in an unprecedented blitz.

The NFL has dished out nearly $5.5 million to a cadre of D.C. firms since Roger Goodell became commissioner late in 2006, tripling its lobbying expenses over the previous four years. League officials and supporters also have directed an additional $680,000 to key political leaders and allies through a recently formed political action committee.

The NFL's spending on lobbying, which reached a record $1.45 million last year, dwarfs that of any other U.S. professional sports league over the same stretch.

"The NFL is not just a bunch of guys running around in uniforms and helmets," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics and "It's a huge business that's increasingly intersecting with the game of politics . . . [and] was here in Washington defending its interests to a greater degree in 2010 than it ever had in any year previously."

In the last four years under Goodell, the son of former New York Sen. Charles Goodell, the NFL has opened a Washington lobbying office, lured a well-connected congressional aide with expertise in antitrust law to run it and created Gridiron-PAC for campaign contributions.

The moves came not in response to any particular political crisis, insiders say, but rather because league officials concluded that they faced increasingly complex business and regulatory matters that demanded a larger and more active presence in Washington.

"The range of issues you're dealing with has grown," said Jeff Pash, the league's executive vice president of labor and general counsel. "We had a Washington [presence] but I think the feeling was we need to have someone there . . . to be part of the discussion and help shape policy."

That someone became Jeff Miller, the former chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee and an aide to Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). Miller was named the NFL's senior vice president for government affairs in 2008.

The NFL also increased the workload of some of its D.C. lobbying firms to address a host of issues from player concussions to Internet gambling to cable and satellite television matters and labor issues. Covington and Burling, Capitol Hill Strategies, Elmendorf Strategies and The Glover Park Group reported earnings last year.

Though the NFL is bracing for a clash with players when its collective bargaining agreement with players expires March 4, NFL officials say they have discouraged lawmakers from treading into the collective bargaining process.

"How we distribute our game to our fans is the most essential business issue we have in Washington," Miller said. "We will respond to the Players Association's strategy of engaging Congress on labor issues - but only respond. We have no intention of trying to draw Congress into our negotiations."

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