Opponents of arena subsidy amass $40,000 in new donations

The groups skirmishing over the proposed public subsidy for the new Sacramento Kings arena raised and spent tens of thousands of dollars apiece in recent months, according to new financial disclosures.

Two organizations fighting the proposed subsidy and seeking to gather signatures to put the question on next June’s ballot reported raising a total of nearly $40,000.

Meanwhile, a group in favor of the subsidy disclosed Thursday that it raised nearly $26,000 in cash and loans.

The latest financial disclosures offer a snapshot of the trench warfare over the proposed $258 million public subsidy. Two citizens groups are gathering signatures to force a vote on the subsidy. The group that favors the subsidy is seeking to keep the question off the ballot.

The main subsidy opponent, STOP, or Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, said in a filing this week with the city clerk that it had raised $31,473 in the quarter ending Sept. 30. Of the total, $25,000 came from a single donor: Chris Rufer, an agribusiness tycoon who lives in Sacramento.

A second citizens group, the recently formed Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, reported donations totaling $8,500 on its website. Because it’s so new, the group doesn’t have to formally disclose its donations to the city clerk until January.

The two anti-subsidy organizations face a mid-December deadline to gather the 22,000 necessary signatures to put the issue on the June ballot.

STOP is attempting to rebound from a difficult stretch this summer in which it was revealed that Chris Hansen, the man who tried to buy the Kings this year and move them to Seattle, had secretly bankrolled the signature-gathering effort with a $100,000 donation. STOP said it didn’t know for months that Hansen was the funding source; Hansen wound up paying a $50,000 fine for violating California campaign-disclosure laws.

STOP took possession of thousands of signatures gathered with Hansen’s support. All told, the group has collected “well north” of the 22,000 signatures needed, said STOP spokesman John Hyde.

In its latest filing, STOP said it spent nearly $28,000 during the quarter ending Sept. 30. That left it with $13,702 in cash at the end of the quarter.

Hyde said STOP is evaluating the signatures to see how many are valid. The group is still collecting signatures, and wants to amass at least 33,000 to provide a buffer for those that are found to be invalid. He said the group expects to turn in the petition by late November.

A group supporting the subsidy,, said Thursday it gave the clerk another 3,000 “withdrawals” – voters removing their signatures from STOP’s petitions. That brings the total withdrawals to 8,000, the organization said.

DowntownArena reported $20,946 in cash contributions during the third quarter, plus a $5,000 loan. The vast majority of the funds came from labor unions and union contractors. The group also said it spent almost $18,000 during the quarter and had $8,100 left.

The controversy around STOP, particularly the link to Hansen and Seattle, prompted Voters for a Fair Arena Deal to jump into the picture in early October and conduct a parallel signature-gathering effort. Of the $8,500 reported by the Voters group, the biggest donation came from a political action committee affiliated with the Western Electrical Contractors Association. WECA and other nonunion building contractors are fighting the subsidy because they’re angry with the decision to build the arena with union labor.

Eric Christen, head of an association of nonunion contractors, said last month that he expected his members would contribute as much as $25,000 to the effort.

STOP’s new big donor, Rufer, is the founder of Morning Star, a $350 million-a-year tomato processor based in Woodland. The company has said it controls 40 percent of the U.S. market.

Rufer played a role in the long-running scandal at SK Foods, a giant tomato processor whose top executive, Frederick Scott Salyer, was sentenced to six years in prison on racketeering and price-fixing charges. Rufer alleged in court papers that Salyer cheated his company out of $18 million by bribing executives at Kraft Foods and Frito-Lay, and by bribing Rufer’s personal assistant to steal confidential data.

Rufer couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hyde, the STOP spokesman, said Rufer’s interest in the campaign is based in his “interest in private enterprise.”

“I believe his opposition has to do with a public subsidy for what STOP – and many people – considers a private business,” Hyde said, referring to the Kings.

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