Editorial: Who is financing arena campaigns?

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 31, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 31, 2013 - 6:24 am

Opponents have every right to seek a public vote on the city's plan to subsidize a new downtown Sacramento arena. By doing so, however, they accept a responsibility for transparency, particularly on who is funding their efforts.

Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork is meeting its financial disclosure obligations as it tries to collect enough signatures to get the measure on the June 2014 ballot. To earn the public's trust, it also has to make sure the outside political action committee whose help it has enlisted makes public where any money for the anti-arena campaign comes from.

As yet, Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods, based in Orange County, has not given any cash or in-kind assistance to STOP, says James Cathcart, one of STOP's leaders and its treasurer. "Whatever they do, we would disclose," he told The Bee's editorial board Tuesday.

The Orange County PAC, which is making its first foray into Sacramento politics, has not reported to the city on any activities on the arena campaign.

In its latest filing to the secretary of state, it reported raising no money overall and spending a mere $426 during the first half of this year. Last year, the group raised about $112,000 and spent nearly $116,000 for or against a host of local candidates and ballot measures in Southern California.

Cathcart said the Orange County group's precise role in the arena campaign will be determined as it becomes clearer how the drive is going to gather the 22,000 qualified signatures needed by December to get the measure on the ballot.

STOP filed its financial report with the city Monday, showing that it had spent about $11,800 from January through June and raised about $2,400 in relatively small donations from Sacramento residents. In 2012, it reported $23,200 in contributions, again mostly small sums from local residents, except for $15,000 from Sandy Sheedy's City Council campaign fund after she decided not to seek re-election.

On the other side of the issue, DowntownArena.org, the pro-arena group started by Region Builders, filed its statement of organization with the city on Tuesday. Its first financial report is due by Oct. 31, and it has the same obligation for full disclosure, including the exact funding for recorded phone calls Sunday night to 56,000 voters urging them not to sign the petition.

As The Bee's Ryan Lillis reported Tuesday, the campaign is already heating up, with the two sides trading accusations of dirty tactics. That's too bad. There are plenty of substantive issues to debate in the $448 million arena deal, which calls for at least $258 million in public money.

Cathcart and other arena subsidy foes have been highly skeptical of the process that led to the agreement. To make that criticism stick, they have to be absolute sticklers for openness on their finances.

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