NASCAR’s Taxpayer-Supported Ads

This week, NASCAR and other professional sports have been making their cases for keeping public money rolling into their accounts. For years, the U.S. Military has been spending large sums, up to $100 million a year, to professional sports for advertising to aid in publicity and recruitment efforts. While the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball have benefitted from this money, NASCAR has apparently received the lion’s share. Georgia Republican Representative Jack Kingston, who is leading the charge, had this to say: “I think as a conservative, we’ve got to measure our friends in the military with the same yardstick we measure a social program.”

Further, Kingston made the observation that “If I’m in this budget climate where for every dollar spent, 40 cents is borrowed, if you’re spending $5 million, you ought to be able to show a congressional oversight committee or appropriations committee what you get for that money.” Agreed. In principle, Kingston is right on the money. However, as NASCAR spokesman Jon Schwartz points out, the money being spent on sports sponsorships isn’t being stopped, it is being moved:

“It doesn’t save taxpayers any money because it doesn’t include a reduction in spending by the military. It reallocates marketing dollars away from this valuable channel,” he said. “Singling out sponsorships is like telling a carpenter he can’t bring a key tool to the job site. Leaving decisions like these in the hands of a few members of Congress is misguided.”

Obviously, Schwartz, as a spokesman for NASCAR, is somewhat biased in his opinion, but he is absolutely right. Kingston can huff and puff about knowing what taxpayers are getting for their money when it comes to sports advertising, but let’s face it: $100 million is a drop in the bucket. It probably amounts to the percentage of my annual household budget spent on popsicles for my children (my line-item for desserts is slightly higher), although I’m sure this isn’t even a close analogy. Kingston sounds all conservative and limited government-ish in his rhetoric, but the amount of money being spent is still the same. The only difference being that this money will now be spent elsewhere. In other words, it’s like me telling my kids that things are getting tight around the house and we’re going to need to stop buying popsicles for them. But instead of not spending it, I am actually only “reallocating” the popsicle money to some other item in our family budget, netting a “savings” of exactly zero. It’s all budgetary “smoke and mirrors.”

However, Kingston’s point of “showing what you get for that money” is still valid. And, strangely enough, the military sports advertising campaign is one of the very few taxpayer expenditures where “we the people” actually can see what our money is getting us. Every American is able to flip on his television, or visit a NASCAR race and see the Army logo prominently displayed on Ryan Newman’s #39 racecar or the National Guard logo emblazoned on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s #88 car with his very own eyes. The tangible benefit of the presence of the logo is certainly more difficult to quantify—advertising is not like tanks, or cruise missiles, or popsicles—but it is very easy to see “what we get” for the expense. If this is really Kingston’s benchmark for all government spending, he should have begun elsewhere. I recommend Kingston occupy his time with discovering “what we get” for the nearly $90 billion (that’s “billion, with a “b”) spent by the Department of Education every year. That’s a chuck of taxpayer change that I would definitely support being “reallocated.”