Have they no shame at all?
“They” would be all the manipulators who tried to build a downtown Kings arena at public expense while concealing who was paying for much of their work.
These manipulators were led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, who created his Think Big Sacramento task force and helped fund it with a big chunk of money funneled into it by the Sacramento Kings.
The mayor and his task force made wild claims that a new arena would generate thousands of new jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy. They were eager to hand over the public parking franchise to private operators for 50 years despite the lousy record of the cities like Chicago that tried that. They helped persuade the City Council to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to check out their proposals and get the arena train rolling. They told us how hard they were negotiating with the Kings to craft a deal in the taxpayers’ interest.
And all the while the mayor’s task force was secretly working with $380,000 in donations from the Kings, according to the front page story in the Sacramento Bee today. The mayor failed to report these donations in the time frame required by state regulations, the Bee said, meaning they were kept hidden during the whole arena battle.
In the face of these revelations, the mayor’s henchmen are touting their civic virtue. Kunal Merchant, the mayor’s chief of staff when the contributions were made and now executive director of Think Big, told the Bee that the arena task force “protected taxpayers, maximized public participation and put the city’s best interests first.”
Yes, indeed, I’m sure that’s true, just like all those “scientific” studies that showed smoking wasn’t harmful. Turns out they were funded by the tobacco industry. It’s funny how donors expect something for their money.
What’s especially worrisome about the latest arena chicanery is how many people knew what was going on and chose to remain silent. In addition to the mayor and his close associates, the heads of some major companies must have known. According to the Bee, the $380,000 to Think Big Sacramento represented “a cut of the $10 million in corporate sponsorships Johnson helped raise in spring 2011 to keep the Kings in town. Some companies made their payments directly to the mayor’s arena task force, while others paid the Kings the full share of their sponsorship deals and agreed to have the franchise transfer a 10 percent cut to Think Big, according to team and task force officials.”
The supporters, the Bee said, included some of the region’s largest corporations, such as Sleep Train Mattress Centers, which is in negotiations with the Kings over a naming rights deal for the existing arena; vision health care provider VSP; and Western Health Advantage.
At least two companies refused to have their sponsorship deals fund Think Big, the Bee said. One of those was Thunder Valley Casino, which provided one of the Kings’ largest sponsorships at $1 million.
“We were not interested in funding a consultant-driven effort to fund studies about the potential for a new arena,” said Doug Elmets, a spokesman for the casino.
Unfortunately, the Bee itself, which was a strong backer of the downtown arena, managed to miss this story during the arena fight.
This sorry episode shows that the taxpayers of Sacramento need to examine closely anything proposed by our mayor and ask who stands to gain. Transparency isn’t his strong suit.