As a group, the 31 people who are principal owners of an NFL franchise form a fairly consistent donor base for the Republican Party. Of the group’s $6,629,120 in political contributions over the past three election cycles, more than $5 million has gone to Republican campaigns or political action committees, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of political spending in sports published this week.
There are exceptions, however, among an ownership club that’s been reliably red. One of them is the family that owns the Vikings.
The Wilf family’s political contributions during the 2016, 2018 and 2020 election cycles have largely gone to Democratic candidates or PACs, making the Vikings owners one of the few groups in the NFL who donate primarily to left-leaning campaigns or groups.
The Star Tribune this week reviewed FiveThirtyEight’s data and publicly available campaign finance records, finding the Wilfs primarily donated to Democratic candidates for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives in recent years.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf gave $69,150 to Democratic campaigns or PACs since 2016, while donating $25,000 to Gridiron, the bipartisan super PAC that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell launched in 2007.
Of the 12 owners who donated to Democrats since 2016, only five — the Giants’ Steve Tisch, the Seahawks’ Jody Allen, the Falcons’ Arthur Blank, the Rams’ Stan Kroenke and the Dolphins’ Stephen Ross — gave more than Wilf. Only Blank and Tisch did so while donating less than $10,000 to Republicans, and no owner gave more to Democrats than Wilf without donating to Republicans at all.
Twins owner Jim Pohlad spent the most on political donations among the four Minnesota pro team owners in FiveThirtyEight’s analysis, giving $187,000 to Democratic candidates and PACs and $25,000 to Major League Baseball’s PAC.
Wild owner Craig Leipold and Timberwolves/Lynx owner Glen Taylor were also more active donators than Wilf. Leipold donated $139,910 to Republican groups, while Taylor, a former Republican state senator who also owns the Star Tribune, gave $119,100 in support of Republican candidates.
Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf donated more than $20,000 in support of 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, while donating to the Democratic National Committee and giving $6,000 or less to Democratic congressional candidates in eight states (Minnesota, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina and North Dakota).
Mark Wilf also has donated to U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, to Gov. Tim Walz’s congressional campaign in 2016, and a handful of Republican candidates in the Midwest (Sens. Charles Grassley in Iowa, John Hoeven in North Dakota and John Thune in South Dakota, Minnesota state Sen. Karin Housely and former Minnesota congressional representative Erik Paulsen).
The Wilf brothers’ cousin Leonard, who also owns a share of the team, gave $12,800 in support of Biden this year and $7,770 in 2016 to support Clinton, while also supporting Minnesota candidates from both major parties (Klobuchar, Smith, Housley, Paulsen, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer and 2018 Republican congressional candidate Jason Lewis).
Among NFL owners, the Texans’ Bob McNair and the Browns’ Jimmy Haslam spent the most on political contributions. McNair supported Republicans with $1,357,200, while Haslam gave $1,596,900 to Republicans, $17,800 to Democrats and another $7,500 to groups that FiveThirtyEight categorized as bipartisan, but mostly Republican.
The Wilfs have been active donors to the U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital, establishing an 11,000-square foot addition in 2015 with a $5 million gift, and have more recently funded the work of the Vikings’ three-year-old social justice committee.
When co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson established the group with players late in the 2017 season, the Vikings’ owners met with the team to discuss their own experiences as the children of Holocaust survivors.
“Of course it resonates,” Mark Wilf said in 2018 of his family’s experiences. “They appreciated it, but I also learned a lot about what some of our players have been through, whether it’s directly or [through] family members. I think it was impactful on all fronts. In a way, this whole initiative has allowed us to get to know our players a little better — not just in the building or on the field, but things that matter to them, or what they’re hearing about.”
Former Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly said at the time: “It shows they care. [The issues Black players are talking about] are something that doesn’t directly affect their group, but it affects part of their team. And they’re like, ‘All right, this is a big problem, and I see it as a big problem for a couple guys on our team. This is what we’re going to do.’ They didn’t have to do that, but they did, and that means a lot.”
The family donated $250,000 to the group in 2018 and 2019, before announcing a $5 million gift to be used at the group’s direction for national social justice initiatives in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May. The Vikings’ owners also gave $125,000 endowment to establish a scholarship in Floyd’s name for an African-American graduating high school student in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The team awarded its first $5,000 scholarship to Minneapolis Southwest graduate Mimi Kol-Balfour in September.