The National Guard is under the microscope for spending $26.5 million on a NASCAR sponsorship in 2012 that resulted in zero new soldiers.
The data, which was obtained by USA Today,
shows that 24,800 recruits showed interest in the Guard in 2012, all of whom said the NASCAR sponsorship first piqued their interest. Only 20 individuals were qualified to join the service in that group, according to the documents, and none of them decided to join.
In 2013, the Guard heard from 7,500 potential recruits that were swayed by the NASCAR campaign. The USA Today report does not say how many in that group, if any, signed up.
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The National Guard's annual recruiting goal is 50,000 soldiers, for which it requires 1 million candidates. From 2011-2013, the Guard spent $88 million on its NASCAR deal and another $38 million in IndyCar racing.
The Guard's lack of a return on its investment was the subject of a Senate hearing in front of the subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight Thursday, spearheaded by chairman and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, who said the branch of service was "wasting a bunch of money on a very expensive sports sponsorship," according to the USA Today report.
The NASCAR deal allows the Guard to put its logo on a team car at 20 races, maintain recruiting displays at tracks, and recruit in high schools through its "Race 2 Achieve" program. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., one of the top drivers on the circuit, has been driving the No. 88 car plastered with the National Guard logo since 2008. He won the Daytona 500 in February, a victory that generated what amounts to millions of dollars in advertising for the Guard, according to research cited by USA Today.
National Guard spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt told USA Today the vast majority — a whopping 90 percent — of Guard members who either enlisted or re-enlisted between 2007 and 2013 said they saw recruiting materials for the service in some form via the NASCAR deal. And he said that 77 million people see the Guard's name and logo because of Earnhardt's role.
"In today's media-driven environment, a strong branding effort is a good value and helps create a fundamental awareness of the National Guard as a career option," Breitenfeldt told USA Today in a statement.
The documents obtained by USA Today indicated the Guard's biggest demographic for recruiting is the 18-35 age group, which makes up about a third of NASCAR fans.
McCaskill said she is not trying to pick on the National Guard, but wants to know whether the money was well spent.
"The leadership of the Guard is probably more in the target range," McCaskill told USA Today. "It's probably something they watch. I'm a fan of NASCAR, too. That's not a slam on NASCAR. It's whether or not tax dollars are being used for the intended purpose."
In February, the Guard came under fire for a bonus program that allegedly paid more than 800 soldiers up to $100 million in fraudulent money.
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