The group seeking a public vote on the city of Sacramento’s plan to subsidize a downtown arena received a pivotal boost over the weekend when it obtained 18,000 signed petitions financed by Chris Hansen.
Those petitions likely place Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, or STOP, within just a few thousand signatures of what it needs to qualify a measure for the June ballot that would require voter approval of public contributions to sports facilities. STOP needs 22,000 valid signatures from city voters – and it has three more months to reach that threshold.
Hansen, who tried to buy the Sacramento Kings earlier this year and move them to Seattle, requested in a letter Tuesday that STOP return or destroy the petitions, which he said were both financed with his money and given to the campaign without his consent or knowledge. While stopping short of threatening legal action against STOP if the petitions are filed with city election officials, Hansen said the group “does not have any legal right to them.”
“Please do the right thing,” Hansen wrote.
STOP announced Tuesday it had received the signatures from an Orange County political consultant named Brandon Powers, who had arranged for the petitions to be gathered with $100,000 from Hansen. The campaign is in the process of verifying the validity of the signatures, said STOP spokesman John Hyde. He said the goal will be to collect 30,000 signatures, enough to provide a buffer for those that may be found invalid by county elections officials.
The money that funded the petition drive was transferred in June from a Los Angeles law firm that Hansen said he paid $100,000 to conduct research into the viability of Sacramento’s arena plan. That arena plan, a pivotal element of the city’s successful effort to block the Kings move to Seattle, includes a $258 million public subsidy, most of which would come from bond financing backed by city parking operations.
Powers did not return either a phone call or email seeking comment.
STOP said it would deny Hansen’s request to return the petitions.
“These petitions represent the will of 18,000 people who took the time to provide their signatures and express their desire to put this tax subsidy to a vote,” Julian Camacho, president of STOP, said in a statement. “We believe it would be wrong – ethically and legally – to deny them that right.”
Volunteers with STOP also have spent three months collecting signatures for the campaign. In addition, STOP recently hired Momentum Political Services to organize paid signature gatherers, and those workers have been collecting petitions for two weeks.
“Make no mistake: This initiative will qualify,” Jim Cathcart, STOP’s treasurer, said in a statement.
Josh Wood, a leader of DowntownArena.org, a coalition of building trades groups and Kings fans, said the signatures were “collected with lies and misinformation.” Hansen was not revealed as the financier of the petitions until weeks after a reporting deadline mandated by state election code. He later agreed to pay a $50,000 fine.
The campaign attempting to defeat the ballot measure will likely be a costly one, with most of the region’s most powerful special interest groups and politicians aligned in their support of the arena plan, political consultants said.
“All of the invested parties are going to be out in droves trying to defeat this initiative,” said Doug Elmets, the chief spokesman for the failed 2006 initiatives that proposed financing a new Kings arena with a sales tax increase. “When you combine business, labor and local government – all who are eager to see the arena built – you’ll see an incredibly well-funded effort.”
Elmets added he expects the effort to force a vote on the arena to “be woefully underfunded.”
“They need a wealthy benefactor that is willing to help them advance,” he said.
Members of a group of nonunion contractors opposing an agreement to build the arena with union labor said they plan to support STOP’s effort. Those individuals – part of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction – plan to meet today to work on the plan to get behind STOP, said Eric Christen, the organization’s executive director.
Hyde acknowledged that the pro-vote campaign would still be drastically outspent and would be forced to rely upon grass-roots efforts, including a heavy use of social media. “I think given the financial resources of the two different groups, it will end up being a David and Goliath fight,” he said.