I’ve been trying to catch up after a week-long cruise with my kids down in the Caribbean and as I was doing my best to sort through thousands of e-mails and articles in my RSS reader, I stopped and did a double-take when I saw some headlines from last week about how the Federal Communications Commission is spending $350,000 taxpayer dollars to sponsor a NASCAR team. For that money, NASCAR driver David Gilliland “has agreed to use his No. 38 car as a high-speed billboard promoting the February 2009 national transition to digital television,” according to Multichannel News.
In the annuls of idiotic government spending initiatives this one has to be a potential hall of fame entry. Over on the PFF Blog, my PFF colleague Barbara Esbin has a humorous piece explaining why:
what signal does FCC sponsorship of a stock car racer send to the beleaguered American public in this autumn of our discontent? The FCC Chairman claims that this sponsorship is an “extremely effective way for the FCC to raise DTV awareness among people of all ages and income levels across the United States who loyally follow one of the most popular sports in America.” Well, those loyal sports fans will have to be following No. 38 at the three sponsored races with some pretty high-speed binoculars to catch the DTV message. Although the $350,000 does get the government posting of its informational website URL, www.dtv.gov, along the track — doubtless not the only advertisement to lure spectator eyeballs — it is primarily receiving posting on the car’s sides and on the driver’s helmet and suit. Let’s just hope No. 38 has a large fan base, does exceeding well in the three races, and, more importantly, avoids accidents, injuries, and fleeting expletives. Maybe this is just another federal government bailout. On the same day that the FCC announced its investment in NASCAR, the Raleigh News & Observer ran an article entitled, “Global crisis threatens NASCAR.” It seems that “motor sport” team sponsorship has been down this year, “with sinking auto showroom sales, declining attendance and rising operating costs.” And let’s not even talk about the carbon footprint of stock car racing.
Of course, what’s even more pathetic about this move is that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s likely motivation for doing this is probably political: He probably thinks this is a good way to win blue collar votes with all the NASCAR fans down in North Carolina for a future run for office. [It's widely rumored that he will seek some office down in his home state after his tenure at the FCC is up.] After all, NASCAR is hugely popular in that state. I don’t know about you, but I’m none too happy subsidizing a get-out-the-NASCAR-vote effort for one of the most regulatory-minded FCC Chairmen in history.