Politics and the Redskins always have been among the favorite dinner-party conversation topics for Washingtonians. Now one Washington Redskins player is attempting to merge the two.
Dorian Boose, a reserve defensive end in his first season with the team after three years with the New York Jets, says he is starting a political action committee and hopes to recruit a number of his teammates to the cause. Boose, with the help of his wife, Brenda, is holding a fundraiser on Monday at The Rock sports bar on 6th St. NW to benefit the Senate campaign of Ed Cunningham, an Austin attorney who serves as Boose's agent.
Boose's venture may be part of a broader trend. Another Cunningham client, offensive lineman John Welbourn, already has started a PAC with the Philadelphia Eagles. Cunningham said he expects players from "five or six" NFL teams to have PACs within the next few months.
"I think within the next two years, you'll see every team have one," Cunningham said during a recent telephone interview. "I always tell players it's so crucial for them to get involved. With most NFL players, by the time they realize what they have, their careers are over. I ask them whether they're just a part of the world or actively participating in the world. I hardly ever talk to a player who doesn't say he'd like to be more involved but doesn't know how to go about it."
Cunningham and Boose say that, for the players, the formation of the PAC is as much about meeting business leaders to make contacts for future endeavors as it is about wielding political influence.
"It's a chance for me to broaden my horizons, get in the mix and meet some people," Boose said.
Cunningham, who played briefly with the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s, noted that NFL players tend to spend most of their time with other athletes.
"This is a chance for them to meet some people so they can hit the ground running after football," Cunningham said, adding that the players also could learn how to gain a voice in the political process.
"They're entertainers who can bring people together to raise money," he said. "In the political process, the people who are able to raise money are the people who are going to have influence."
Political action committees have become increasingly influential in Washington over the past several years as the cost of elections has skyrocketed.
Lawmakers in search of money to finance their campaigns have turned repeatedly to corporations and interest groups, which can donate more than ordinary individuals. Under federal election law, each PAC can give $5,000 to any candidate each election, which includes the primary and general election as well as any runoffs or special elections. Individuals, by contrast, can give only $1,000 per election.
The committees provide such groups with greater clout than they would have ordinarily, allowing them to become more effective advocates. A PAC donation also provides candidates with a seal of approval from these groups, helping them appeal to particular constituencies or to woo other contributors.
In the case of a sports team's PAC, players are well positioned to capitalize on their celebrity in a way that other political activists cannot. In the same way lobbyists attend fundraisers to get access to policy-makers, some contributors may give to the Redskins' new committee simply in exchange for a chance to mingle with players.
While several sports associations have powerful lobbying operations in Washington, few have formal political committees. The Professional Golfers' Association has a small PAC, and Major League Baseball recently started its own committee. The baseball PAC gave out $70,000 in unrestricted "soft-money" contributions during the first six months of this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, two-thirds of which went to Democrats.
Ken Gross, a campaign finance law expert, described professional athletes as "an untapped resource" in the political money chase.
"This sounds new to me, but the idea of trying to capitalize on the star power of football fame sounds to me like something that could work," Gross said.
Welbourn said in a phone interview: "The NFL tends to be kind of politically silent. You always hear about Hollywood actors supporting candidates and taking part in the political process, but you never hear about NFL players doing that."
Several Virginia lawmakers said they had not heard of the Redskins' PAC.
"It's an innovative, creative way for Cunningham to raise some money for a Senate race in which he would be a long shot," suggested Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.). Moran quickly added: "I wish him luck. He sounds like a good Democrat."
Cunningham is hoping to succeed Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), who is retiring after three terms in office. That seat has not been in Democratic hands since 1961, and there is a crowded field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.
The other Democrats competing in the March 12 primary include Ken Bentsen, a four-term congressman from the Houston area whose uncle, Lloyd Bentsen, served as a U.S. senator; former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk; and Victor Morales, a high school geography teacher who lost to Gramm in 1996.
Cunningham -- who predicted Monday's fundraiser would raise between $20,000 and $30,000 in a "blue-collar, high-testosterone affair" -- said the PAC is not aimed simply at boosting his own political fortunes.
"They all want to know what they can do," he said, adding that football players are particularly influential with young fans. "They can make the political process cool for the younger generation."
The Eagles players' PAC is co-chaired by Welbourn and one of that team's more prominent players, cornerback Troy Vincent. Welbourn said the seeds for the Eagles' PAC were planted when he was talking to his father, Robert, an attorney who ran for Congress twice in California, about ways to help Cunningham's campaign. An October fundraiser held by the Eagles' players originally was intended to benefit Cunningham's campaign, but the funds instead were given to a charity to benefit families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
Welbourn said he would like the Eagles' PAC to support candidates who are helpful to unions and who promote causes in which the players are interested, like education.
He said the Eagles' PAC now has about 15 players involved but acknowledged that the level of participation is "not as great as I had hoped because not a lot of guys know what a PAC is. Not to denigrate NFL players, but they tend to think about just what's in front of them. They don't tend to think outside the box. It's still a tough sell. It's hard to convince guys it's a benefit to them. The question I hear is, 'How is a senator from Texas going to benefit me?' I try to tell them, 'Next to the president, a U.S. senator holds the most powerful political office in the country. Do you know what it would mean to be able to call a U.S. senator and get your concerns heard by him?'
"The guys who joined tended to be the guys I was friends with and the guys I hang out with," Welbourn said. "There are a lot of offensive linemen. I bugged them enough about it that they finally gave in and joined. Fortunately, a guy like Troy Vincent was able to see the benefit in it."
Cunningham said he has heard that players on other NFL teams -- including the New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers and the Jets -- are starting PACs. When players have asked for his advice, Cunningham said, he has told them to keep the ventures nonpartisan and involve only those players whose interest is serious.
Other Redskins players seem skeptical of the venture, called Players Political Action Committee. Defensive end Marco Coleman said he had "no idea" what Boose was talking about.
Boose said he would like to involve veteran teammates such as Coleman, defensive lineman Kenard Lang and cornerback Darrell Green. Boose, 27, joined the Redskins last summer. He seldom plays when veteran starters Bruce Smith and Coleman are healthy. But Smith and Coleman have been plagued by injuries this season, and Boose made the first two starts of his NFL career in October.
He said he isn't certain whether he might consider pursuing a career in politics after his playing days are done.
"I'm definitely pretty good at arguing about issues," he said. "I don't want to say no because that might end up falling into the category of famous last words."