Despite ardent support for the GOP by Atlanta Dream co-owner and Georgia Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler, WNBA owners lean Democratic. But can the political activism of WNBA players be just as impactful as the high-dollar donations of team owners?
In the estimation of many WNBA fans, Atlanta Dream co-owner and Georgia Republican Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler is the infamous face of the intersection of electoral politics and women’s sports.
Yet, other WNBA owners have also worked to influence the political process, albeit less intensely than Loeffler.
An analysis conducted by ESPN reveals the political donations of the owners of sports teams, offering a picture of the political priorities of those who control league franchises, including the WNBA’s.
Despite Loeffler’s public prominence, the WNBA is the only major American sports league whose owners lean Democratic. Based on data from the 2016, 2018 and 2020 electoral cycles, 51.7 percent of the political contributions of WNBA owners went to Democratic candidates and/or causes and 42.3 percent percent went to Republican candidates and/or causes. The remaining percentage went toward initiatives considered bipartisan.
Here’s a further breakdown of what we know about the political donations of WNBA owners:
Loeffler not alone in support for GOP
Appointed to the Senate by Georgia governor Brian Kemp in the fall of 2019, Loeffler ran in a crowded field to maintain her seat in 2020. With no candidate reaching the 50-percent mark in the Nov. 3 general election, Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate endorsed by the WNBPA, will meet in a Jan. 5 runoff.
Because of her efforts to aid her own campaign, as well as burnish her conservative credentials, Loeffler is responsible for 65.5 percent ($876,150) of the $1.3 million dollars that WNBA owners gave to the GOP. This degree of financial commitment qualifies Loeffler as a “big-money donor” in ESPN’s analysis.
Loeffler also is the only WNBA owner to have donated money to the Trump campaign and/or a Trump super PAC during the 2020 election cycle.
Other WNBA owners who directed their wealth to Republican politicians and/or priorities from 2016-20 are:
- Herbert Simon, Indiana Fever ($345,600)
- Glen Taylor, Minnesota Lynx ($119,100)
- Robert Sarver, Phoenix Mercury ($105,300)
- Bill Cameron, Dallas Wings ($44,508)
- Mary Brock, Atlanta Dream ($26,200)
- Bill Hornbuckle, Las Vegas Aces ($23,901)
- John Rogers, Chicago Sky ($2,700)
Sarver ($40,000), Simon ($39,000), Cameron ($32,092) Rogers ($30,000) and Loeffler ($20,000) also have donated to bipartisan efforts.
Most WNBA owners lean Democratic
In mid-October, the Seattle Storm became the first professional sports organization to formally endorse a presidential ticket, lending their full support to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
There is no doubt who we support in this election. For ourselves. For our family and friends. For our business. For our country. For our future. Vote for Biden/Harris. #force4change @seattlestorm pic.twitter.com/QaZyWushHu
— Dawn Trudeau (@dawntru) October 21, 2020
Unsurprisingly, the all-women Seattle Storm ownership group of Dawn Trudeau, Ginny Gilder and Lisa Brummel exclusively contributed to Democratic candidates and/or causes, together giving $78,120.
Chicago Sky co-owner John Rogers led the WNBA owners in his financial commitment to Democrats and Democratic efforts, with his $661,650 in contributions far outpacing the amount he directed to bipartisan or Republican campaigns.
Indiana Fever owner Herb Simon likewise gave significantly more money to Democrats — $345,600 — than he did to Republicans or bipartisan initiatives. He was one of two WNBA owner who directly contributed to the Biden campaign and/or a Biden super PAC. Due to his willingness to spread his wealth, ESPN categorized Simon as a “big-money donor.”
Los Angeles Sparks co-owner Magic Johnson and Washington Mystics owner Ted Leonsis also are “big-money donors,” according to ESPN’s analysis. Johnson gave $289,900 and Leonsis $163,513 to Democrats and/or their priorities. Johnson’s fellow Sparks’ owner, Mark Walter, gave $25,000 to bipartisan organizations.
Along with Simon, Chicago Sky co-owner Michael Alter directly donated to the Biden campaign and/or super PACs. In total, Alter gave $50,750 to Democratic causes.
Other WNBA owners who contributed to Democratic efforts are:
- Bill Hornbuckle, Las Vegas Aces ($30,920)
- Robert Sarver, Phoenix Mercury ($10,500)
- Bill Cameron, Dallas Wings ($2,700)
- Harvey Alter, Chicago Sky ($500)
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert donated $3,750 to bipartisan initiatives.
Big money vs. inspiration and motivation?
While owners of teams have the wherewithal to donate significant amounts of money to political campaigns, athletes have the public platform needed to motivate political action and involvement.
Thus, while lacking the well of financial resources of the people who own the teams they play for, WNBA players can make, and have made, political change.
Rev. Raphael Warnock insists the efforts of WNBA players — who wore “Vote Warnock” t-shirts before a pair of nationally-televised games on Aug. 4 — boosted his campaign. Warnock told USA Today:
I think it was helpful. It was one of many turning points in the campaign. It gave people a chance to look a little closer and say, “Who is this Warnock guy and what is he about?”
In the two days after WNBA players made their sartorial statement, Warnock’s campaign raised nearly $200,000. Since then, Warnock’s campaign has been on an upward trajectory, one that could culminate in his election to the Senate over Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler. If so, the passion of WNBA players will have proven more consequential than the deep pockets of Loeffler.
We are @wnba players, but like the late, great John Lewis said, we are also ordinary people with extraordinary vision. @ReverendWarnock has spent his life fighting for the people and we need him in Washington. Join the movement for a better Georgia at https://t.co/hC8iF9urak pic.twitter.com/mvN5e9m4oO
— Elizabeth Williams (@E_Williams_1) August 4, 2020