WASHINGTON — More than 100 million people are expected to tune into Sunday night’s Super Bowl, the culminating annual event of a league that raked in more than $9 billion in 2012.

With that kind of money flowing through the National Football League, two senators from Oklahoma and Maine urged their colleagues last week to ponder a simple question:

Should the NFL really be tax exempt?

“We have no excuse for reducing vital services to the needy or benefits like veterans’ pensions when special handouts like this one are still on the books,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, wrote in a “dear colleague” letter to fellow senators last week.

The pair are seeking co-sponsors on a bill that would revoke the tax-exempt status of professional sports organizations such as the NFL, the National Hockey League and the Professional Golfers’ Association of America.

To be clear, the NFL is not really making $9 billion tax-free.

The vast majority of the cash that Americans shell out on game tickets, orange Peyton Manning jerseys or Patriots-logo valve stem caps for truck tires (only $13.95 per set) is taxable. Most of that money flows to the teams, which are for-profit franchises that pay local, state and federal taxes.

Only the NFL’s head office is tax-exempt under the 501 (c)(6) section of the tax code that also shelters the Chamber of Commerce and any other “trade associations” or “business leagues … whose purpose is to promote the common business interest.”

Those trade associations are not allowed to make a profit, and the NFL’s tax attorney says that’s certainly true of the head office behind the world’s most financially successful sports league.

“All $9 billion – all of it – is subject to taxation every year,” Jeremy Spector, the NFL’s outside tax adviser, said in an interview. “To put it another way, the NFL’s tax exemption is not shielding any of those profits from taxation. The NFL is set up to have all of those revenues generated by the teams in the league, … and because those teams are for-profit companies, all of that money is taxed.”

That said, the NFL’s tax-exempt head office isn’t exactly hurting for cash.

King and Coburn point out that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – a part of that tax-exempt head office – earns an estimated $30 million a year.

“Have you ever heard of a nonprofit where somebody is making $29 million a year?” King said in a joint appearance with Coburn on CNN’s “New Day” program.

And rather than marketing a business or all types of football, the pair contend, the NFL is marketing a specific brand.

“I love football. I love professional golf,” added Coburn, a spending-reform crusader who publishes an annual “Wastebook” that chronicles what he sees as government waste. “But I love a fair tax code and this is a quirk in the tax code.”

The Properly Reducing Over-exemptions for Sports Act (or PRO Sports Act) introduced by Coburn and now co-sponsored by King would apply to all professional sports leagues, not just the NFL. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that ending the exemptions would generate about $10 million in tax revenue annually.

But Spector said the Coburn bill is based on a “misperception and a flawed premise” that the NFL is somehow cheating the government out of tax dollars. Spector pointed out that the Internal Revenue Service audited the NFL several years ago for compliance as a nonprofit – including looking at the size of its compensation – and found no issues.

And then there’s the misconception around the word “nonprofit.”

“When you tell most people that an organization is a nonprofit, people often equate that with a charity,” said Spector, a partner at the Washington law firm Covington & Burling. “But there are all kinds of nonprofits that are tax-exempt but are not charities: trade associations, labor unions.”

A similar bill is pending in the House, although it’s unclear whether the PRO Sports Act will ever come up for a hearing in Congress. It’s a safe bet that the $9 billion-a-year league and its 32 teams will make sure their voices are heard on Capitol Hill if it does, however.

PENTAGON PLANS MISSILE SITE STUDY

The Department of Defense announced Friday evening that it plans to begin evaluating and soliciting public feedback on a potential missile defense facility in the mountains of western Maine.

At the direction of Congress, the Pentagon is evaluating potential East Coast locations for ground-based interceptors designed to knock down nuclear warheads bound for North America. Nonetheless, the Defense Department has not committed to building a facility.

The western Maine site is located in Redington Township east of Rangeley at a U.S. Navy training facility known as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (or SERE) School. Pilots, special operations units and other military personnel receive training at the SERE School in how to survive everything from extreme cold to interrogation.

The other sites still on the list are: Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Custer, Mich.; and Camp Ravenna, Ohio. A Vermont site was removed from the list during an initial study.

The next step in the process is a 24-month-long environmental impact statement review.

“The EIS will assess environmental impacts at each of the sites, to include potential impacts to land use, water resources, air quality, transportation, socioeconomics and other factors established by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” the Pentagon said in a news release. “Public involvement is encouraged as part of the process, to include public meetings, written comments and public review of the draft and final documents.”

MAINER INVITED TO WHITE HOUSE

The Obama administration invited a representative from the Maine Marine Trades Association – an organization that works with the state’s boatyards, boat builders and marinas – to attend an event that was held Friday on the problem of long-term unemployment.

Susan Swanton, executive director of the Maine Marine Trades Association, was invited as a representative of organizations that help retrain individuals to start new, skilled careers. Several dozen CEOs of major corporations also attended.

President Obama organized the event as part of his administration’s effort to correct a pernicious cycle in which people who have been unemployed for long periods of time have a harder time being considered for jobs. The president emphasized the importance of job training in his State of the Union address.

LIBERAL MAINE?

A new report from the Gallup polling firm lists Maine among the country’s more left-leaning states, even though Mainers were more likely to label themselves conservative than liberal.

Gallup said that 27.3 percent of Maine residents who took part in their daily tracking surveys throughout 2013 identified themselves as liberal, ranking Maine seventh nationally (or eighth counting Washington, D.C.). The District of Columbia leaned farthest to the left at 38.1 percent, followed by Vermont, Massachusetts and Delaware.

While 32.6 percent of Maine poll-takers described themselves as conservative, the largest proportion – 37.3 percent – described themselves as moderates.

The Gallup report is based on the results of surveys with more than 178,000 adults in all 50 states throughout 2013.

The state that leaned farthest to the right? Wyoming, where 51.4 percent lumped themselves into the conservative crowd. Liberals outweighed conservatives in only three states: Vermont, Massachusetts and Hawaii. Not surprisingly, though, the largest block of Americans saw themselves as moderates.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

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Twitter: @KevinMillerDC