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UFC lobbying efforts versus the Ali Expansion Act tops $100K

Documents reveal how much the UFC is spending to kill the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act.

Government Shutdown Continues Without Resolution Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

On May 26th, 2000 the United States Congress enacted the Muhammad Ali Reform Boxing Act. The legislation brought amendments to the Boxing Safety Act of 1996 which were aimed at reforming, ‘unfair and anti-competitive practices in the professional boxing industry.’ Among these amendments were added protections to boxers from ‘coercive contracts’, the implication of objective ranking systems, and the forced disclosure of certain financial information from boxing promoters and sanctioning bodies.

Exactly sixteen years later, Representative Markwayne Mullin (a Republican representing Oklahoma’s 2nd congressional district) introduced H.R. 5365, or the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act. With this proposed legislation, Rep. Mullin - a former MMA fighter - is attempting to expand the amendments brought about by the original Muhammad Ali Act into the world of Mixed Martial Arts.

For in-depth analysis of H.R. 5365, and what might happen to MMA and the UFC if it became law, see Bloody Elbow’s own Paul Gift and John S. Nash and their June 8th Show Money podcast, which addressed the issue and featured commentary from UFC veteran Jamie Varner. For even more info, also check out Nash’s April 18th interview with Rep. Mullin.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) signaled its objection to the proposed legislation - which if enacted would drastically impact their current business model - by hiring lobbyists with the intent of encouraging members of Congress to oppose the bill.

Documents, obtained by Bloody Elbow, revealed that the UFC’s current spending on lobbying activities related to the Ali Expansion Act currently tops over $100,000.

In a document, filed with both the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Senate Secretary and dated July 14th, 2016, it is revealed that ZUFFA LLC paid SB Strategic an estimated $30,000 for J. Scott Bensing’s efforts in regards to ‘Ali Act monitoring’ in both the US Senate and US House of Representatives.

Bensing is a former Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who once served as Chief of Staff for former Senator John Ensign (R-NV). Ensign resigned from the Senate in 2011 amid a headline grabbing corruption scandal.

Over his political career John Ensign received $132,455 from the Station Casinos gaming company, which like ZUFFA is owned by the Fertitta Brothers. Ensign had also received campaign donations from the UFC ($9,600 between 2007-12). Donations to Ensign from both Station Casinos and the UFC were legal and were not pertinent to any corruption investigations involving the former Senator.

With regards to today’s fight versus the Ali Expansion Act, ZUFFA and the UFC made second and third payments to lobbyists during the third quarter of 2016 (both documents are dated June 20th, but this refers to their filing date, not the date the actual payments were made). The first of these listed payments is labeled as coming from ‘ZUFFA LLC [doing business as] UFC’, and it amounted to an estimated $80,000.

That payment was designated as being used to lobby against both ‘Piracy of copyrighted programming’ and ‘H.R. 5365 - Muhammad Ali Expansion Act’. This payment was made to the law-firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schrek, for the services of Makan Delrahim, William Moschella, and Zachary Pfister. With this payment, it appears that those lobbyists made contact with members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and the US Department of Justice.

The next of these payments was labeled as being from the UFC itself and totaled $50,000, payable to Faragut Partners, who employed Jeffrey MacKinnon, Jody Gale, and Jeffrey Mortier on the assignment. The description of the lobbying issue for this payment was ‘Work on the Muhammad Ali Act’, and the lobbying work associated with this payment involved contact with the US Senate and House of Representatives.

ZUFFA isn’t the only entity interested in shutting down H.R. 5365, though. In the same quarter that ZUFFA/UFC paid an approximate $130,000 to their lobbyists, the American Conservative Union contributed approximately $10,000 to lobby against the bill (along with a slew of other issues).

In June, the American Conservative Union teamed up with 16 other organizations to officially lodge their opposition to the Ali Expansion Act. In their letter, this coalition claimed Mullin’s proposed bill, “tramples the traditional prerogatives of the states to regulate contracts and sporting events and is of dubious constitutionality.”

The groups who signed that letter have given over $5.5m to members of Congress since 2013. It’s not a far leap to think that those groups might encourage those Congress members to oppose H.R. 5365.

Like the American Conservative Union, the UFC is no stranger to lobbying politicians. This year the UFC has also spent money to lobby the US Senate and House of Representatives on issues of piracy and visa waivers. They have also paid lobbyists to promote the sport of MMA in general, among Washington elites. The money spent on these endeavors totals approximately $190,000.

Since 2010 the UFC has spent over $2m (approximately $376,000 per year average) to lobby politicians regarding mostly piracy laws, online gambling, and the merit of MMA overall.

Whether the organization’s latest spending in Washington will pay off, in the form of killing the Ali Expansion Act, remains to be seen. As does how the UFC’s new owners - WME - will move on the issue. For all the updates on this legislative battle, which has only just begun, be sure to keep following Bloody Elbow (and especially John S. Nash - @heynottheface on twitter).