Paid patriotism

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“We’re No. 1.”

That’s been a constant refrain of Boston and New England sports fans in the new millennium — and with good reason. The Patriots and the Red Sox have won multiple championships, while the Bruins and Celtics have notched one apiece. Now this quartet of winning clubs has brought a more dubious title to the region. Each of those four professional sports franchises has landed in a less-than-honorable report called Tackling Paid Patriotism.

The report, authored by Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, exposes the Defense Department’s misuse of taxpayer dollars at sports venues across America. The release of the 145-page report coincided with Veterans Day and congressional approval of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016.

Timed and titled for the football season, Tackling Paid Patriotism uncovered 122 advertising and marketing contracts, most with professional sports teams. According to the Arizona Republicans, the Department of Defense spent $10.4 million taxpayer dollars on a range of marketing activities, including tickets, color guards, flag details, baseball first pitches, hockey puck drops, hometown hero tributes, air flyovers, and troop formations.

Rejecting the rationale that these expenditures played an important role in troop recruitment, McCain and Flake identified the outlay of at least $6.8 million as “paid patriotism.” They conclude: “This kind of paid patriotism is wholly unnecessary and a waste and abuse of taxpayer funds, and it must end.”

Topping this region’s list of money makers, the New England Patriots charged taxpayers $700,000 for on-field ceremonies, as well as for season tickets, pregame field passes, tailgate passes, and even a VIP parking pass. One wishes, but doubts, that the last named item found its way to a deserving wounded warrior.

Second to the Patriots in this region, the runner-up Boston Bruins settled for $280,000. Tackling Paid Patriotism singles out the Beantown hockey franchise, citing “The National Guard paying the Boston Bruins for a luxury box for 18 people and an executive view suite for 25 people on Military Appreciation Night.” The taxpayers also picked up the tab for Red Sox tickets and a Boston Celtics Soldier Spotlight promotion, but those clubs netted only a meager $100,000 and $195,000, respectively.

Compared to a defense budget exceeding $600 billion, these expenditures amount to little more than a minor accounting error. Digging deeper than the raw numbers, the spending itself pulls back the curtain on out-of-control government bureaucracies. Even essential agencies bloat to elephantine proportions. Tempted by a seemingly unlimited supply of taxpayer dollars, bureaucrats end up spending recklessly. In this case, wastefulness veered to sensationalism, because a patriotic or pro-soldier veneer camouflaged a profit-making enterprise.

It represented a hoax upon American taxpayers. Worse still, the report comes as news stories are still exposing veterans’ hospitals as rudderless and often incompetent. In these circumstances, every possible tax dollar should be applied to correcting the disgrace of inadequate care for veterans. Their patriotism is a precious sentiment and profound sacrifice, not a commodity to be bought and sold.

The most telling finding in the report says, “we discovered the startling fact that the Department of Defense cannot accurately account for how many contracts it has awarded or how much has been spent.” That’s not so much a revelation, as it is a confirmation of the lack of oversight in the over-extended federal government. McCain and Flake added an amendment to the 2016 Defense Authorization (NDAA) that prohibits future acts of paid patriotism. Nonetheless, the two senators vigorously supported hefty increases in overall funding for the Department of Defense. Republicans and Democrats joined forces to override the sequester spending caps that Congress had adopted in 2011 to curtail the deficit. Breaking that prior sequester agreement, a bipartisan majority in both Houses voted to hike domestic and defense spending by $80 billion over two years.

It’s another lesson about spending always increasing, bureaucracies ever-expanding. Let’s hope the politicians managed to squeeze in extra funds for veterans services, hospitals, and health care. That’s the kind of patriotism toward which every American will proudly contribute.

Joseph Tortelli is a freelance writer.

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