Editorial: Arena foes should disclose financing

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 8:20 am

In all the murky maneuvering behind the bid to stop Sacramento's planned downtown arena, one thing should be clear: The public must know who is financing the effort.

Who exactly is the source of $80,000 being used to pay people to gather enough signatures to put the arena's public subsidy on the June 2014 ballot?

If the Los Angeles law firm that wired the money to a Tulare political consultant won't come clean, the state Fair Political Practices Commission will need to get to the bottom of this. Though investigators are already interviewing some parties involved, the FPPC said Tuesday it has not decided yet whether to launch an official inquiry. Gary Winuk, its enforcement chief, declined to say whether the commission could compel the law firm to disclose the donors.

The local grass-roots group seeking the ballot measure ought to urge its allies to divulge the financial backers as well.

Regrettably, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork plans to submit any and all valid signatures, while trying to disassociate itself from those collecting them. "We have nothing to do with that," James Cathcart, a STOP leader and its campaign treasurer, told The Bee's editorial board on Tuesday.

But the group can't have it both ways – not if it wants to keep any shred of credibility with voters.

And voters have cause to be suspicious given what has been revealed of this tangled web through the dogged efforts of Sacramento Bee reporters Ryan Lillis, Tony Bizjak and Dale Kasler.

In a story published Saturday, Paul Olson, the Tulare political consultant, said that law firm Loeb & Loeb gave him the $80,000 in June to pay for signature gatherers. Olson says the payment was arranged by Orange County political consultant Brandon Powers, who says he had been hired by STOP and Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods, based in Orange County, to run the campaign. Olson, however, says he did not know the origin of the $80,000, and Powers didn't respond to The Bee's calls or emails.

Loeb & Loeb, it turns out, represented the Maloof family, the former owners of the Sacramento Kings, in failed attempts to the move the NBA team to Anaheim in 2011 and Seattle earlier this year.

The Maloofs have categorically denied any involvement in the funding. Barring proof to the contrary, we have to take them at their word, though after their actions during the potential moves and arena negotiations, they don't enjoy much credibility in Sacramento. If not the Maloofs, could the shadowy donor be one of the investors in the Anaheim or Seattle bids?

George Maloof says that Loeb & Loeb told him the $80,000 came from another client. Scott Zolke, a partner at the law firm who represented the Maloofs in those relocation efforts, isn't talking yet. As of Tuesday afternoon, Loeb & Loeb had not reported any spending on the arena ballot measure.

The whiff of possible impropriety was enough to persuade Olson and Sacramento political consultant Tab Berg, who also said he was paid by Loeb & Loeb to work on the arena campaign, to announce Friday they were jumping ship.

Unless those funding the campaign come forward, lots of voters will justifiably do the same.

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