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Monday, April 16, 2007

Sonics Owners May Be Linked to Anti-Union Money

posted by on April 16 at 15:49 PM

Opponents of the $500 million Sonics subsidy mined Oklahoma campaign finance records this weekend to uncover some info they hope will influence Democratic lawmakers to vote down any proposed hand out for the new Sonics owners.

Anti-stadium leader Chris Van Dyk reports that five of the eight new Sonics/Storm owners, including Clay Bennett, were contributors to a controversial “Right to Work” initiative that passed in Oklahoma in 2001. This news, Van Dyk hopes, will help Dems stand up to the Washington State Labor Council, which is pressuring Dems to go along with the proposal.

I’m still looking over the records to confirm the contributions, which may include $15,000 from new Sonics owner Bennett, and $200,000 from Chesapeake Energy—where new Sonics owner Aubrey McClendon is the CEO and another new Sonics owner, Tom Ward, used to be the CEO.

This would be two strikes against the new Sonics owners for Democrats. Late last Februray, I reported that the two of the new Sonics/Storm owners had bankrolled an anti-gay marriage group—not pleasing news to Storm fans.

I didn’t report that news as a ploy to undo popular support for the deal, I just reported it: It seemed newsworthy given the Storm’s fan base.

However, when the news broke, Robert Jamieson, over at the PI, wrote a pretend contrarian truth column saying it was finicky and unfair to reject the Sonics deal over the owners’ politics. Never mind that their politics, funding an anti-gay marriage group, had/has a tangible effect on a big bloc of Storm fans who would potentially be giving money to that cause. In short, rejecting someone for what they “think” is one thing … rejecting them for what they “do” is quite another.

Anyway, I bring this up because when I reported the anti-gay marriage contributions, accusations flew that I was advocating a boycott or something. I wasn’t. Again, deal or no deal in play, it seemed like big news when I found out that some owners of the Storm were heavy contributors to an anti-gay marriage group.

However, Van Dyk, by busting out this news about anti-union contributions today—as a Senate vote is pending on a Sonics deal—is obviously operating politically.

RSS icon Comments


Josh- once again thanks for the excellent coverage. I agree with your take, your coverage of the anti-gay position of the Sonic owners was salient to the fan base, as is the foolish right to work take that they have. State Dems should support labor, but that does not mean supporting every mega project that possibly comes down the tracks. you are closing in on ECB when it comes to political coverage (and that is saying a lot)

Posted by Lawrence Molloy | April 16, 2007 4:09 PM

I think you mean "pored over," not "poured through."

Posted by Cascadian | April 16, 2007 4:13 PM

Politics aside, if you can afford to pay some guy millions to bounce a ball then you should be able to pay for your own fucking stadium.

Posted by monkey | April 16, 2007 4:18 PM

The question of gay rights and the question of whether or not we have a basketball team are two separate issues, despite your attempt to conflate them.

Storm fans may be largely pro-gay (or just plain gay), but I think they, unlike you, have an ability to compartmentalize in a situation like this. I have two friends who happen to be Storm fans--and lesbians--and they don't really care how ownership spends its money, except in regards to the team's roster and the facility. At the end of the day, they believe ownership's responsibility to them is limited to putting a quality team on the floor. That's all any real sports fan, gay or straight, should care about in this scenario.

Posted by Matthew | April 16, 2007 4:22 PM

Keep the people ignorant with your smokescreens Josh.

Posted by Nancy | April 16, 2007 4:32 PM

Stadium = teh suck don't do it.

Posted by Andrew | April 16, 2007 4:47 PM

If you don't support stadium subsidies, teh Gheys will win!

Posted by NapoleonXIV | April 16, 2007 5:17 PM

Clay Bennett has contributed to a ton of right-wing Repubs, including Dubya, Tom Coburn and Bill Frist. These are the same people who swear by the "free market" and scream for smaller government, yet Bennett comes to this state, cowboy hat in hand, looking for taxpayer subsidies for his business.

Posted by DOUG. | April 16, 2007 5:18 PM

when you hand out $$$$$$ to powerful right wing corporate interests thru public gifts, like a Sonics stadium subsidy, gee, duh, you empower the right wing rich arrogant wing of corporate America and this leads to anti union activities, anti gay activities, etc. etc.
There is a close link. We don't value public subsidies to the rich, because they just grab everything and giving them $$$$ only incites them to grab more. They for themselves, not for a free market!

Just ask Pres. Bush who used his power and prestige to avoid the draft, get rich off a baseball team, had a war enrich his cronies, and now is having his minions try to run our government thru RNC e mails accounts -- they think the nation is theirs to rule over as they like! We are against CRONY CAPITALISM whether via the Sonics or Halliburton! Their same bad, evil minds that think wrong thoughts about stadium subsidies also think stupid, bad evil thoughts about human rights and labor rights !!!!

Posted by duh | April 16, 2007 6:10 PM

Politicians don't support labor on principle. They support labor to the degree that they feel they need labor's support in electoral campaigns. If the WSLC is already backing the stadium, who will be swayed by this new info? One can only hope that progressive forces in the WSLC can wake up the rest of the members. But not likely. Those fuckers will build absolutely anything that has a project labor agreement attached to it, even if the few jobs they get take money from the poor and give it mainly to the rich.

Posted by wf | April 16, 2007 6:15 PM

Politicians don't support labor on principle. They support labor to the degree that they feel they need labor's support in electoral campaigns. If the WSLC is already backing the stadium, who will be swayed by this new info? One can only hope that progressive forces in the WSLC can wake up the rest of the members. But not likely. Those fuckers will build absolutely anything that has a project labor agreement attached to it, even if the few jobs they get take money from the poor and give it mainly to the rich.

Posted by wf | April 16, 2007 6:19 PM

I don't know why progressives think labor unions are such a great thing. Perhaps in the past they were, but that was a long time ago. Today's labor unions are no better than corporations, corporations exist to do nothing except make money for their shareholders; labor unions exist for to do nothing except get good wages for their members. The WSLC would build fucking death camps for gays and minorities if they could get union wages for doing so and if the SEIU could get union contracts for the guards and they guys feeding the ovens and digging the mass graves they'd throw in too.

I'm not saying that I wouldn't join a union if I had the chance, some unions, like the Teamsters, do a damned good job taking care of their members. But I wouldn't be under any illusions that being in a union was somehow a good and progressive thing to do.

Posted by wile_e_quixote | April 16, 2007 7:45 PM

1. What printer is The Stranger printed at? Is that Union?

2. How about the staff at The Stranger?
What union do you belong to?

I'm thinking the answer is NO and NO.

Sound Familiar?

More hypocritical Bullshit from The Stranger.

Posted by The real Questions Josh | April 16, 2007 8:09 PM

You dunderhead. Read my post.

I didn't make any judgment about the anti-union $$.

And I reported that Van Dyk was using the info "politically" to influence union flunky Democrats.

Sigh. Can't do nothing around here.

Posted by Josh Feit | April 16, 2007 8:18 PM

This is all Wally Walker's fault. Signing Jim McIlvane to that huge contract was the STUPIDEST move in basketball history, and it destroyed an amazing basketball team.

One of my best memories of this city was watching the Sonics/Bulls NBA finals at Ernie Steele's on Broadway. And those Payton-to-Kemp ally-oops with Kevin Calabro calling - I must have spilled over 60 beers jumping out of my seat. There's no way Seattle would have let that team leave the city...

Posted by Sean | April 16, 2007 9:23 PM

That would all be very well and good, Matthew, IF the owners were willing to foot 100% of the bill, then you and your lesbian friends would be absolutely justified in compartmentalizing to your heart's content.

But, we're talking about every voter in several counties, if not in fact the entire state ponying up tax dollars to finance this project, and so far as this particular tax payer is concerned, MY political beliefs should have some bearing on the decision as to whether I want my hard earned money going to subsidize these guy's for-profit venture, which, by their own account won't turn a profit for THEM without my contribution.

So, if that's the case, then I want my place at the table, collectively-speaking, on behalf of all us tax payers who presumably are going to end up footing the majority of the bill. If the voters were to approve financing for this project, then they should be entitled to decision making authority commensurate with the percentage of their contribution, just like stockholders of any other corporation. If it happens that, by way of how the financing numbers fall out, we hold a majority of the stake, then we get to make the decisions about how the corporation will operate, who will run it, what its policies will be, and for certain we should expect shareholder value for our investment, along with a decent appreciation, and some tangeable dividends at the end of the year.

Under those terms, hey, even I might consider voting for the proposal - but, somehow, I don't think that's what our friends from OK have in mind.

Posted by COMTE | April 16, 2007 9:31 PM

@ 14....

You didn't make any judgemnent?

Read your Headline Josh. You are spreading this crap so take accountability for your actions.

And Comte, give me a fucking brek. How much money does your theater group give back to the audience? It's not like you are operating at a profit

Posted by The real Questions Josh | April 17, 2007 7:03 AM

I think it's kind of funny that just a week ago, I read that Washington's dem's voted down a pro labor bill and now they are trying to gather the same evidence against the Sonics/Storm ownership to use against them... Aren't politics fun! I like how everyone's accountable only when it's convenient!

Posted by Colin | April 17, 2007 8:40 AM

Comte @ 16:

First of all, Josh was talking about the impact of the OK group's anti-gay spending vis a vis the largely gay/gay-friendly fan base for the Storm. You're extending that out to the general voter populace, which neither I nor Josh was talking about.

But your main argument, the one which equates paying taxes on a multi-use sports stadium with stockholder-type ownership of the team itself is way, way off-base.

If you were paying attention to what the OK group was actually trying to do, you'd see they want to build an arena that potentially could do way more than house the Sonics/Storm. It creates a south end destination, some reason to go to Renton beyond Ikea. I think the concept at least merits consideration.

But non-sports fans in this town are so bent out of shape about the whole Safeco field thing they reflexively dismiss ideas like this. Never mind that Safeco is well ahead of schedule in terms of the bonds being paid off, and has likely created jobs and wealth throughout Pioneer Square (though I admit I only have anecdotal evidence of that).

The new arena can be paid for with only an extension of the existing hotel/restaurant tax that covered Safeco. Most of this gets paid by tourists. Really, as far as sports-related taxes go (if you want to call it that, since the Renton arena will do more than just house the basketball team), it's pretty progressive.

Anyway, please look into it a little more before making what seems like a relatively ill-considered snap judgement.

Posted by Matthew | April 17, 2007 9:57 AM

Not sure what a "fucking brek" is TrQJ - some kind of shampoo perhaps? - but if I had some, I'm sure it would be something I didn't really need, like another publicly financed sports temple, so you'd be welcome to it.

And I'm definitely not sure where you're going with your comment; are you trying to say that an organization that isn't profit-driven owes its patrons a rebate because it's NOT making money? That doesn't even make sense.

And FWIW, my theatre company DOES give money back to patrons in one very real sense, because the extremely low ticket prices we charge don't even cover the costs of production. In fact, based on our uncontributed income (i.e. ticket sales), we actually lose money on every production. The difference is of course made up through grants, which in turn allow us to keep our prices affordable to our audience. Strangely, you don't see sports franchises giving their patrons a similar ticket subsidy, even though most of the financing for their venue has been paid for with public money.

On the other hand, if we charged our patrons 100% of costs, or say 110%, if we wanted to include a bit of profit-margin, our tickets would probably be three to four times what they are.

So, perheps you might not feel you're being given an adequate "brek" (sic), but given our recent attendance figures, it certainly appears to me that our audiences are quite happy with the arrangement.

Posted by COMTE | April 17, 2007 10:02 AM


That's what they SAY, but when has a sports franchise ownership group ever actually followed through on the lofty promises they've made BEFORE sticking their snouts into the public trough? Let's not forget for example, that the original Key Arena re-fi proposal offered by the Seattle ownership group would have effectively charged local restaurants for the privilege of refurbishing that facility, with the expressed purpose of developing food concessions specifically designed to pull patrons out of the QA neighborhood establishments that were in part paying for the upgrades in the first place?

And don't even get me started on First And Goals insistence that they keep 100% of the revenue generated by non-Seahawks programming in both Qwest and the Convention Center (and now including WaMu Theatre), plus all concessions revenue - money that would have been better spent either for early retirement of the public financing or to provide badly needed funding to other city/county priorities.

And it's hardly a revelation that this "revised" plan was only put on the table by the owners, what about a week ago, once they finally got it into their heads that their original scheme to siphon off state sales tax monies wasn't playing well in Olympia.

And while I'll grant much of the revenue from hotel/motel stays does come from out-of-towners, a significantly large portion of the funding also comes from restaurants, and therefore comes out of the pockets of locals who patronize them. I'm sure many of us who choose to occasionally eat out would appreciate being charged slightly less for our meals, rather than having to continue shelling out our own money for something we otherwise don't support.

Posted by COMTE | April 17, 2007 10:50 AM

Hey, Matthew, I think the image of tourists paying for the stadiums is EXACTLY the picture that the PR firms have tried to paint. I'd love to see an actual breakdown, but I'd guess that the restaurant tax burden is mostly borne by US local residents.
Also, don't forget, as Gregoire embarassingly did, that part of the financing is from a diversion of the state sales tax money raised in King County -called a "sales tax credit." That's money diverted from the state Treasury, so it's really a subsidy by ALL state taxpayers.
Lastly, the problem with having a Renton events facility that sucks business from Key Arena is that the latter would lose way more money than if the Sonics just left. And Seattle taxpayers would be on the hook for that.

Posted by DCY North Seattle | April 17, 2007 11:11 PM

With respect to my motives on breaking the anti-labor contributions of current Sonics owners, of course the reason is political. We are waging a political campaign to stop the Sonics from getting public tax dollars to fund their private, for profit business. That's the way we do it in America. We fight like dogs, win or lose, have a beer and get over it. It is a hell of a lot better way than is done in certain other parts of the world.

That said, the Sonics tout the support of organized labor in their quest for public dollars. Not only is SEIU opposed to this, thanks to UFCW Local 21, my wife gets decent wages and benefits--we are a union family. My brother is Professional & Technical Engineers Local 17, and a supporter, too, of our effort. We have the endorsement of the Postal Workers. Two of my sisters are WEA; one headed up her local. They are supporters of ours.

There are many proud union families who have not been polled by the WSLC on this issue, and in our opinion, they deserve to know just what kind of camel is being brought into Washington's labor tent. The question becomes, will we sacrifice long term labor policy and union viability, for the jobs on a single construction project? The right to work issue was the centerpiece of a broader anti-labor, anti-union campaign in Oklahoma. Thus, it should come as no great surprise to anyone, that union members in Oklahoma have helped bring this information to the public or that it was publicized.

Posted by Chris Van Dyk | April 18, 2007 10:01 AM

Hey Van Dyk, anyone ever tell you that you like the sunken-eyed biology teacher in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"? See ya at Safeco Field this summer!

Posted by The Ghost of Maggi Fimia | April 18, 2007 2:54 PM

Hey Van Dyk, anyone ever tell you that you look like the sunken-eyed biology teacher in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"? See ya at Safeco Field this summer!

Posted by The Ghost of Maggi Fimia | April 18, 2007 2:55 PM

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