Bruce Maiman is a former radio show host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at brucemaiman@gmail.com.

Viewpoint: Arena opponents hurt cause with their secrecy

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9A

To be clear: I like the idea of a new Kings arena. Concerns about its funding mechanism are legitimate. People should be allowed to vote on those concerns.

As a resident of Rocklin, I cannot vote on any such potential ballot measure, but if I could, I'd have a hard time voting for anyone willfully operating behind the murkiness of opacity and anonymity as the people of the STOP campaign now seem to be doing.

The refusal by an Orange County political action committee and the so-called Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork to reveal the donors financing a petition drive to put the city's arena subsidy plan on the ballot is disappointing.

Despite media requests and inquiries, representatives of the PAC aren't identifying their financial backers. A spokesman for the group told The Sacramento Bee in an email he doesn't know who is heading his group or funding it. A political consultant apparently tied to the group declined comment. STOP, which last month joined forces with the PAC to launch the petition drive, isn't talking, either.

So far, all we're being promised is that any funds raised by the political group after June 30 must be reported in October.

Federal law allows groups filing under that murky 501(c)(4) status to engage in political causes while keeping donors anonymous. California law, however, requires donors be identified when any group engages in any local or statewide political effort.

It's possible STOP is waiting for the actual receipt of funds. Ann Ravel, chair of California's Fair Political Practices Commission, tells me that, by law, you can delay disclosure of donors "until there has been a receipt of the money" being donated.

But STOP isn't even saying that. They're not even saying why they're not talking, and by saying nothing, they raise an air of suspicion that only damages their credibility.

"All sides need to be transparent," writes Dale Scribner in an email. The Pocket area resident, who runs a manufacturing machine shop, sides with the STOP campaign and wants a public vote but insists "all cards should be on the table."

I communicated via email with several Sacramento residents who'd written me before on past arena columns, but only those opposed to the subsidy plan who support a taxpayer vote on it. They all shared the same sentiment.

"Of course, there should be transparency with any group involved in any campaign," wrote Stephen Holloway, a retired labor relations consultant with the state. "Unfortunately for public subsidy opponents, STOP is doing no favors to its cause by aligning with a shadowy group from the south."

Like many arena opponents, these readers typically added that City Hall's arena promoters were inflating the benefits while being shifty about cost estimates and hiding details that would otherwise get much-needed attention if taxpayers could vote on them.

It's hard to believe STOP is on high ground by calling for transparency if it's hiding sources.

And therein lies the true rub: STOP is now engaging in the same obfuscation it and its supporters have long charged of City Hall's arena supporters.

"Knowing who's funding ballot measures is a shortcut that helps voters make decisions that are consistent with their views," Ravel said.

In June 2010, Proposition 16 was being promoted by the nebulously named Californians To Protect Our Right To Vote. Passage would've required local communities to secure a two-thirds vote to establish their own power source. Because of California's disclosure requirements, voters knew the committee was just a front for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. That revelation made a huge difference in how people perceived the issue. A giant utility simply didn't want any competition from local entities.

Interestingly, Southern Californians – not served by PG&E – supported the measure, but it was defeated due to overwhelming opposition by PG&E customers in Northern and Central California familiar with the utility's shenanigans.

Last fall, an Arizona group funneled an anonymous $11 million contribution toward the passage of Proposition 32, which would've banned unions from using dues for political purposes, and the defeat of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's temporary tax increase for education. The group refused to divulge its donors, violating California law.

Is that now finally resolved?

"We're still investigating," Ravel said, because layers of disclosure, donors donating to other donors who donate to a PAC, can be like the proverbial riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. You never get to the bottom.

Could we see that same dance in October from the STOP campaign? It's entirely possible, Ravel said, and if that happens, gathering enough signatures for an arena vote will be an even greater challenge, and STOP will have no one to blame but itself.

Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at brucemaiman@gmail.com.

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