The families that own the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers have poured at least $15 million – via more than 1,500 separate donations – into the political system since 2001, according to an NBC analysis of federal, state and local campaign disclosures.
In an era where more Americans are paying attention to businesses’ stances on current events, NBC crunched the numbers on which candidates and causes may benefit from the profits raked in by this season’s top football families.
What politicians do the DeBartolo-York family, owners of the 49ers, support?
Denise DeBartolo York, and her husband John York, have been the principal owners of the San Francisco 49ers since 2000, when Denise’s brother, Eddie Debartolo Jr., handed her control of the team. The family has a net worth of $5.8 billion, according to Forbes.
The Yorks, DeBartolos, and the businesses owned by the family, including the 49ers, have made at least 1,000 political contributions – totaling more than $13 million – over the last 20 years, according to election records.
The Yorks and 49ers have donated to well-known candidates on both sides of the aisle, such as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former president George W. Bush, former Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), as well as California governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gavin Newsom. Campaign disclosures show they donated tens of thousands of dollars to support former Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), and also made contributions to the Ohio Republican Party.
But most of their influence has been to support progressive causes and down-ballot Democrats, including then-Attorney General Kamala Harris, in left-leaning California.
The 49er team and its owners invested $4.6 million to influence the Santa Clara mayoral and city council races in 2022, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the San Jose mayoral primary earlier that year, according to election records.
Records also reveal the team and its owners poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into ballot measures over the last decade, including efforts to restore affirmative action, restore voting rights for felons, and provide voting access for 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the general election.
But while most of the family and franchise donations have gone toward progressive candidates & causes, there is one notable exception in the family: Denise’s brother and former owner of the 49ers, Eddie DeBartolo, a wealthy businessman who handed off control of the team in 2000 after pleading guilty to fraud related to a bribe he paid the governor.
He was pardoned for the felony by President Trump in February 2020.
Eddie DeBartolo, who now lives in Florida, has spent millions on political influence — to mostly conservative candidates and causes – since 2000, including more than $770,000 to Ron DeSantis committees and $400,000 backing his son-in-law, the Republican sheriff in Hillsborough Co. (FL), Chad Chronister. Records show he has also supported Tampa’s Democratic mayor, Jane Castor, and former Florida governor, Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist.
Neither the 49ers nor Eddie Debartolo Jr. returned requests for comment.
Which politicians do the Hunt family, owners of the Chiefs, support?
The owners of the Chiefs, the Hunt family (worth more than $20 billion, largely thanks to family oil and gas businesses, according to Forbes), have donated more than $1 million to conservative candidates & committees in the last decade, according to federal and state filings.
The most politically-active Hunts are family matriarch Norma, who has given nearly $500,000 to federal campaigns since 2016, and her son, Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt, who has donated more than $200,000 to federal campaigns during that time.
Among the dozens of Republican campaigns the Hunts have supported: prominent senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) and the late John McCain (R-Ariz.).
There were no reported contributions from the Hunt family to any presidential campaign since 2015, and Clark’s siblings – Daniel, Sharron, and Lamar Jr. – have contributed just north of $36,000 between them to federal candidates – all Republicans – since 2013.
The Chiefs organization also contributed nearly $100,000 to state political committees over the last decade, according to Missouri election records. Recipients include committees focused on electing Republicans to the state legislature, as well as committees supporting progressive local initiatives, such as Together KC, a group that successfully boosted ballot initiatives related to community investment and affordable housing.
A spokesperson for the Chiefs and Hunt family declined comment.
Which politicians does Taylor Swift support?
NBC did not find any financial contributions from Taylor Swift to candidates or political committees, but the singer – with a net worth of $1.1 billion, according to Forbes – made a prominent $113,000 donation in 2019 to a 501(c)4 advocacy group fighting anti-LGBTQ bills in her home state of Tennessee.
But perhaps more impactful than her financial contributions to date, are her online endorsements – most recently, for registering to vote. According to Vote.org, youth registration spiked – by the tens of thousands – following posts from Swift both in 2018 and 2023 that encouraged her fans to visit the nonpartisan group’s website.
Swift also endorsed two Democrats in 2018 Tenneessee legislative races, and expressed regret in a 2020 documentary over not speaking out against Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy.
A spokesperson for Swift declined to comment when contacted by NBC News.
It’s an enigma that’s mystified fans for decades.
The NFL’s political play
Most team owners have also contributed to the NFL’s “Gridiron PAC,” a political action committee controlled by league commissioner Roger Goodell.
Collecting around $1 million every two years, the PAC has historically redirected a majority of the revenue into the campaign coffers of powerful DC lawmakers – on both sides of the aisle. The contributions are in addition to the NFL’s seven-digit annual lobbying spend.
Gridiron PAC has reported receiving $265,000 in contributions from the Hunt family and $130,000 from the York family since the committee’s 2008 inception.
A recent Gallup poll found just 19% of U.S. adults believe businesses should take a public stance on political candidates, but surging television ratings suggest all the political activity from the league and its teams is doing little to impact their grip on America’s attention.
Noah Pransky covers political, consumer, and sports business news for the NBC Local television stations. His political and investigative work has been honored with national Murrow, Polk, duPont and Cronkite awards, and you can contact him via Facebook, Instagram or X.
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