Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Hansen can make amends for his political misdeeds

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

There is a way for Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen to make it right with everyone – Sacramento, Seattle and the NBA – for his failed plot to manipulate Sacramento's politics.

He can untangle the mess he made when he secretly funneled $100,000 into a campaign opposing Sacramento's downtown arena for the Kings after failing to persuade the NBA to allow him to buy the team and move it to Seattle.

That money, which went unreported in violation of California election law, helped collect what is likely the vast majority of signatures meant to force a public vote on the arena in Sacramento.

It has Seattle up in arms because Hansen's petulant act defied the NBA's decision to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

What if Seattle has to wait longer now for an NBA team – or doesn't get one at all?

And, Seattle asks, if Hansen cares so much about a public vote on a downtown arena, how come he opposes one in Seattle while trying to gin one up in Sacramento?

It's a chain reaction of bad karma with Hansen's sleaze tactics inspiring sincerely principled anti-arena activists in Sacramento to embrace their lesser angels of late.

We'll get to that in a moment. But first, the solution to end all this:

Hansen can make a phone call to retrieve all the anti-arena signatures his money bought between late June and early August. That's when the Fair Political Practices Commission, a state watchdog agency, busted Hansen by suing to learn who was funding signature gatherers in Sacramento who seemed to be working for free – or at least with no record of who was paying them.

There doesn't appear to be anything in California election law to prevent Hansen from taking the signatures his money bought and sticking them in a drawer – or lighting them on fire – instead of handing them over to the locals in Sacramento who are trying to force a public vote on the arena.

In 2011, for example, Amazon collected hundreds of thousands of signatures that might have forced a ballot initiative meant to overturn a California law requiring Amazon to collect sales tax from its customers.

But when Amazon brokered a compromise with Gov. Jerry Brown to postpone the new sales tax, the company destroyed all the signatures and dropped the initiative.

If Hansen were working directly with local anti-arena forces who go by the acronym of STOP, that would be different. The California Election Code states that, "Any person working for the proponent or proponents of an initiative or referendum measure or recall petition who solicits signatures to qualify the measure or petition and accepts any payment and who fails to surrender the measure or petition to the proponents is punishable by a fine or by imprisonment "

Here is the rub: Local anti-arena advocates steadfastly maintain that they are independent of Hansen.

In its most recent campaign filings, STOP, which stands for Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, listed no non-monetary contributions from Hansen or the Orange County PAC set up to distribute his anti-arena contribution.

Non-monetary receipts would account for contributions of value, like initiative petitions.

There are plenty of people in Sacramento who don't believe that STOP has had no contact or coordination with Hansen.

But if STOP is taken at its word, then they have no legal claim to the signatures Hansen bankrolled.

You're either working independently from Hansen, as STOP emphatically stated, or you're not.

Yet STOP badly wants Hansen's signatures. Its leadership speaks of being motivated by transparency in government, but they have been very cagey when it comes to Hansen.

It's not hard to see why.

STOP recently announced it was more than halfway to its December deadline of collecting 22,000 signatures to trigger a June ballot initiative on the arena.

But it wouldn't be surprising if Hansen-bought signatures constituted 80 percent or 90 percent of that number.

What if those signatures never got into the hands of STOP leaders because Hansen pulled them back?

As they say in sports, that would be the ballgame.

STOP would be stopped cold, unless a sugar daddy or mommy stepped forward to fund more signature gathering.

James Cathcart, one of the STOP leaders, told The Sacramento Bee on Friday that STOP should get Hansen's signatures because the people who signed them did so in good faith and in opposition to Sacramento's proposed downtown arena.

Maybe, but they also didn't know that those signatures were collected with money that was not reported according to state law and became the subject of a lawsuit. They did not know the person funding the signature gatherers – Hansen – had no interest in good government in Sacramento.

He wanted to kill the arena after losing a furious battle for the Kings.

Those signatures were collected under false pretenses and without making critical information available to the people signing the petitions.

If STOP were true to its principles, it would disavow Hansen's signatures because they were collected in absence of the transparency they claim to promote.

If STOP were truly independent, it would throw away Hansen's signatures and only submit those that it collected on its own.

And if Hansen truly wanted to make amends with Seattle and the NBA lords he needs to get his cherished NBA team, he would take a match to campaign signatures that symbolize what's wrong with American sports and American elections.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.