George Steinbrenner spent big on politics, too

George Steinbrenner had a long history of political contributions as well as baseball expenditures. Some of those donations got him in serious legal trouble, but they are most notable for how evenly he supported both Republicans and Democrats.

Richard Clement/REUTERS/FILE
George Steinbrenner (l.) meets in 1999 with then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House. The late New York Yankees owner died July 13.

George Steinbrenner’s sports life was defined by Yankee pinstripes. But in politics Mr. Steinbrenner’s uniform was purple.

That’s because he spread campaign contributions around. His personal political state, in financial terms, was neither Republican red nor Democratic blue, but a mix.

Like many wealthy political donors, Steinbrenner was motivated by pragmatism, friendship, and business concerns, as well as ideology. His is a case in point: US politics today may be hyperpartisan, but it is often financed by people who aren’t.

IN PICTURES: George Steinbrenner through the years

Over the past 20 years, the late Yankees owner steered 44 percent of his donations to Republicans and 44 percent to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The rest went to nonpartisan political committees.

For all you waving your hands at the front of the classroom, at this point we’ll acknowledge the back story. In 1974, Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to funneling illegal donations to Richard Nixon’s presidential reelection campaign. The feds fined him, and Major League Baseball banned him from running the Yankees, for a time. Two days before Ronald Reagan left office in 1989, he pardoned Steinbrenner for this offense.

You’d think the pardon might have led Steinbrenner to become a reliable Republican-only ATM. But it didn’t. In 1989, for instance, he gave $1,000 to Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who’s a liberal populist.

For 20 years, the Florida Republican Party was the top beneficiary of Steinbrenner donations. But going over his donation records, three categories of other recipients stand out:

New Yorkers. Republican or Democrat, if you could make it in the Big Apple, you might get a check from Steinbrenner. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer was a top recipient of Steinbrenner cash. So was Republican Mayor Rudy Guiliani.

Bushes and Kennedys. Steinbrenner gave to both George W. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, for their presidential races. In that same period he donated to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and his son Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D) of Rhode Island.

Major League Baseball. Not surprisingly, Steinbrenner over the years has ponied up quite a bit for MLB’s political action committee. He’s also given to Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher in his younger days, and Connie Mack III, a Florida Republican who served in both the Senate and House and happens to be the grandson of the great baseball pioneer Connie Mack.

IN PICTURES: George Steinbrenner through the years


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