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Taxpayers unwitting donors to athletes' charities

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By Carl Prine and Rob Rossi
Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 8:59 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Several foundations run by athletes during the past decade received tens of millions of tax dollars through government grants or earmarks from members of Congress.

A Tribune-Review analysis found:

• $28.4 million in federal, state and local government aid for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's anti-crime programs and a ballpark in Maryland;

• Nearly $7.8 million went to two educational nonprofits of billionaire golfer Tiger Woods;

• About $6 million each went to former tennis star Andre Agassi's Las Vegas educational nonprofit and the cancer charity started by bicyclist Lance Armstrong;

• More than $500,000 went to the Mario Lemieux Foundation for hospital playrooms and a cancer awareness campaign.

The Ripken charity, founded in 2001 by former Baltimore Orioles infielders Cal Ripken Jr. and his brother, Billy, to honor their deceased dad, a former Major League Baseball manager, derived 45 percent of its revenue over nine years from taxpayers.

Most of the money that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation received went to federal juvenile crime prevention programs — often without proof that the spending made a difference.

“We're going to do, every single day of the week, whatever it takes to help save these kids' lives,” said Steve Salem, president of the Ripken foundation and a former Washington-based lobbyist. “Nobody benefited from that federal money, for example, except the kids.”

Some lawmakers have a different view. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former presidential candidate, spoke out on the House floor in 2007 against $1.5 million earmarked for the Ripkens' organization.

McCain warned fellow lawmakers that even when they mean well, “pork spending” on favored constituents “mortgages our children's future for our own political gain.”

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