Follow the money for stadiums


Despite consistent public opposition to taxpayer subsidies for the owners of professional sports franchises, the Twins’ and perhaps the Vikings’ stadiums have picked up strong momentum.

The governor and the Legislature appear poised to provide hundreds of millions of tax dollars for a stadium, letting the team owners keep 100 percent of the proceeds from the new stadium—even the naming rights to a stadium that taxpayers pay for!

If these tax revenues weren’t used for a new stadium, they could be used to clean up Minnesota lakes and rivers, meet transportation and transit needs, or undo the cuts to childcare and early childhood education—priorities the governor and Legislature have been unable to fund this year.
Why is this occurring? Follow the money.

You don’t even need to count the contributions from the Twins’ lobbyists. The Pohlad family, which owns the Minnesota Twins, contributed to Governor Pawlenty and to one of his DFL challengers. The Pohlad family gave to the Republican Senate Caucus and to the DFL Senate Caucus. They gave to the DFL and Republican House caucuses.

Carl Pohlad and his sons gave to legislative leaders of both parties—they even gave to candidates running against each other. In the 2002 gubernatorial race they contributed to two Republican candidates for governor, two DFL candidates, and the Independence party candidate—they had all the bases covered, regardless of who won the election. The Pohlad family has given well over $200,000 in campaign contributions since 2000!

For a couple hundred thousand dollars in contributions they will likely gain a couple hundred million dollars in taxpayer subsidies. It is a great deal for the Pohlad family.

I am not suggesting that there is any quid pro quo here. I’m not suggesting someone is buying votes or that anything illegal has occurred here. But, if it wasn’t for pro-stadium lobbying pressure, wouldn’t many legislators rather use the money to clean up polluted waters or for other urgent needs?

If gubernatorial candidates did not receive generous contributions from the team owners and lobbyists, perhaps the governor would stand up to the pressure and provide leadership in assembling a private financing package, something he has failed to do.

Some people may dispute the notion that Mr. Pohlad and his sons are contributing money in order to get a subsidy from the state. If so, listen to how the Pohlad family and the Twins’ lobbyists respond:

Ten years ago, when they first started lobbying for a new stadium, the Twins’ lead lobbyist was asked why the Pohlads started making large campaign contributions when they had not been big contributors prior to that time. His answer says it all: “They haven’t been before the Legislature with a request of this size before, and now they are.”

Many people make contributions to candidates or parties they support to help them campaign. Perhaps one could argue that the Pohlads are only giving to candidates and to the party they philosophically agree with. But then how do you explain giving $26,000 to the Republican Senate Caucus as well as $40,000 to the DFL one? Or Carl Pohlad’s giving the legal maximum to both Governor Pawlenty and to one of his DFL rivals last year? When lobbyists and people seeking favors from government contribute large amounts of money to both parties, it’s clearly not because they agree with both. It is an attempt to influence the political process.

When they first started lobbying for a stadium subsidy, Bob Pohlad said that his family’s bi-partisan giving was done because “we don’t want to do anything to paint the challenge as a partisan issue. It’s not.” Perhaps this gives new meaning to the word bi-partisan—they’re trying to buy both parties.

Bob Pohlad is right that the contributions probably don’t buy votes. But they certainly help buy goodwill and gain access.

“We’re not trying to buy votes,” Bob Pohlad said. “There’s probably a group of people who will think that. Yes, we made the contributions. It’s the way the world works.”