Rep. McCollum targets spending by targeting NASCAR

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Democratic Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, who has spent months trying to eliminate military sponsorship of NASCAR, is expected to introduce an amendment to next year’s Pentagon appropriations bill that would reduce money going to advertising for motor sports, fishing, wrestling and ultimate-fighting events.

While the congresswoman is intent on eliminating military money in NASCAR, the sport is widely noted as being one of the most ardent supporters of the troops and considered a good place to engage potential recruits.

According to a late 2010 Simmons National Consumer Survey, NASCAR fans are more than 1.5 times more likely to serve or have served in the armed forces as non-fans. Indeed, more than one in four service members are NASCAR fans. Military members are more likely than those who are not and have not been military service members to be fans

“We know this is having an impact on recruiting and helping our recruiters with their jobs,” Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley said. “The alternative to this is having a recruiter walking up and down a mall and talking to about 150 people just to get one person to engage them. That is what we used to have to do. … We have a great and, in my mind, treasured relationship with NASCAR because it gives us a great venue to tell our story as soldiers where people are receptive to it.”

Nevertheless, according to McCollum’s office, while the Army spent $7 million dollars on NASCAR and $5 million sponsoring drag racing in 2011 the effort has not succeeded in recruiting new servicemen. She argues that spending money on NASCAR sponsorships is foolish at a time when the country is looking for ways to save.

“Taxpayer-funded NASCAR race cars are an absurdity at a time when the Republican-Tea Party is cutting federal support for homeless veterans, law enforcement officers, and firefighters,” Rep McCollum said in a statement, adding, “My Republican-Tea Party colleagues can support my amendment and stop wasting tax payer dollars or they can vote to keep wasting the American peoples’ money.”

Indeed, McCollum’s office told TheDC that they have received a number of supportive notes and thanks from members of the Tea Party looking to cut government waste.

While the Pentagon sponsors NASCAR, it is not a one way street. NASCAR is an unrelenting supporter of the troops, donating time and money to supporting and showing American servicemen gratitude for their sacrifices.

“NASCAR has a long history of supporting our men and women in uniform and their families,” said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR managing director of public affairs at the launch of NASCAR’s PSA campaign, to recognize the sacrifice of the American military. “We are proud to partner with Walmart to produce a PSA campaign in support of the First Lady and Dr. Biden’s call to action in support of military families.”

While McCollum’s aim is to reduce spending, her focus on NASCAR has rubbed some — who see Democrats as hostile to NASCAR and their fans — the wrong way.

“The obvious implication of the Democrat attack on NASCAR sponsorship is the political alignment of the majority of its fans: Republican,” Nelson Ireson, an Editor at High Gear Media, wrote. “How, exactly, the whole ball of wax ties into campaigns and seats isn’t clear.”

The alleged skepticism of NASCAR fans on the part of Democrats was highlighted in 2007 when then Homeland Security Chairman Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson advised staffers looking into preparations for terrorist attacks to get immunizations for diseases such as hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus and influenza before visiting tracks in Talladega, Ala., and Concord, N.C.

“Democrats should know that there is no preventive measure yet designed to ward off the blue-collar values and patriotism that NASCAR fans represent,” said Linda Daves, the chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party, at the time. “If they aren’t careful, they just might catch some of it.”

Maria Reppas, McCollum’s communications director, however told TheDC that McCollum’s opposition to NASCAR sponsorship has nothing to do with the sport and everything to do with spending reductions and oversight.

“It is the principle of the matter on spending. [McCollum] has no issue with the military recruiting at the events with tents, it is the idea of putting millions of dollars on the cars themselves,” Reppas said. “Her argument has always been — when it comes to government funding of NASCAR — one: oversight … and two: we are making a lot of budget cuts for homeless veterans, Medicare, etc and it is about priorities. Spending cuts need to be made, but she wants smart cuts.”

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Caroline May