The U.S. military has spent $6.8 million on patriotic displays and perks for soldiers at professional sporting events in the past four years, says an oversight report released Wednesday by U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and John Flake (R-Arizona).
Among the prominent beneficiaries of Pentagon largesse? Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen.
McCain, a longtime watchdog of federal pork, describes the contracts as "paid patriotism." KOIN-TV reporter Dan Tilkin cast a Portland spotlight on the report Thursday evening.
The McCain-Flake report says the Oregon Army National Guard paid the Trail Blazers $35,000 in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. It says the contracts were for color guard ceremonies before three games, and executive suites for 11 games.
The Blazers' haul is chump change compared to what the Pentagon spent on Allen's Seahawks: $453,500.
Those contracts included military enlistment, re-enlistment and flag retirement ceremonies at Seahawks games.
The report is scathing toward such displays.
"By paying for such heartwarming displays like recognition of wounded warriors, surprise homecomings, and on-field enlistment ceremonies, these displays lost their luster," the report says. "Unsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns rather than simply bearing witness to teams' authentic, voluntary shows of support for the brave men and women who wear our nation's uniform."
The Portland Timbers are not listed in the report—but their rivals in Major League Soccer, the Seattle Sounders, L.A. Galaxy and Real Salt Lake, all received contracts.
UPDATE, 3:25 pm: Trail Blazers vice president of corporate communications Michael Lewellen says the McCain-Flake report incorrectly identifies what the Pentagon's money paid for.
"The dollars spent actually paid for game tickets, suite rentals, recruitment space on the arena concourse, etc., and were unrelated to military color guard presentations," Lewellen says. "It's the same kind of transaction that's comparable to a military branch purchasing a recruitment ad in Willamette Week."
"Some legitimate, well-meaning business transactions were painted with a very broad brush which, unfortunately, cast a negative light on the positive things that teams like ours do with military personnel and their families, along with emergency first responders, every year."