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Last September, when Cynthia Hogan began quarterbacking the National Football League’s Washington, D.C., office, the league was suffering through a spate of disastrous headlines — the Ray Rice domestic violence case, concussion concerns and grumbling over its tax-exempt status, among other matters.

So she called in the NFL’s lawyers to review its previous plays.

Hogan, herself a lawyer and former counsel to Vice President Joe Biden, ordered up a “top-to-bottom review” of the NFL’s political action committee by the league’s outside lawyers because she was new to the league, said Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman.

Aiello also said Hogan wanted to make sure the NFL’s political action committee, which donates money directly to political candidates, was following best practices and providing “in-depth briefings and her and her staff” on PAC operations.

The legal review wasn’t free — nowhere close — and the NFL was slow to pay its bills.

The NFL’s PAC owed law firm Covington & Burling nearly $33,000 in outstanding invoices at the end of 2014, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Aiello said the firm’s bill has since been paid, and the review prompted only “housekeeping changes” and rearranging personnel.

Comparatively, the NFL PAC paid Covington & Burling less than $10,000 during 2013, federal records show. The legal bills came during a two-year election cycle when the NFL’s PAC, known as Gridiron PAC, gave less money to federal candidates than it ever has — $330,750, compared to more than $500,000 during the 2010 midterm election cycle.

The money was split nearly evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

The NFL also spent more than $1.6 million on lobbying in 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying spending.

That’s more than in any year since 2011, when it was engaged in a protracted labor negotiation with the players’ union that led to a lockout before the two sides reached a deal.

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Carrie Levine joined the Center for Public Integrity in October 2014 as a federal politics reporter investigating...