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August 19, 2013 at 12:25 PM

I cheer Chris Hansen

Chris Hansen, public citizen (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Chris Hansen, public citizen
(Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

 

Chris Hansen has done something good, and folks are all over him.

The San Francisco hedge-fund manager and wannbe sports owner donated $100,000 to a petition drive for a public vote on the Sacramento arena. Commentators are all astir, not over the use of $258 million in Sacramento’s public revenue to subsidize a venue for private sports, but a private donation one-2,500th as big.

Grant that under California law Hansen was supposed to disclose his donation by July 31, and he didn’t. His gift was discovered anyway by the diligent action of the California bureaucracy, and good for them. Problem solved.

A colleague here at The Times, Danny Westneat, argues that Hansen is “like [Karl] Rove’s moneymen the Koch brothers—billionaires who, when they aren’t getting their way, use their wealth to tilt the democratic process from the shadows.”

Hansen was supporting a group trying to apply the democratic process. The industry of stadium-building for professional sports is designed to avoid the democratic process. Good for him! Chris Hansen is a public benefactor! (Finally.) Was he a hypocrite by supporting democracy in Sacramento and avoiding it in Seattle? Sure. But so what? Hypocrisy is a small sin to excite small minds. Hansen’s action in Sacramento is a good thing because public votes on stadium projects are good things.

Let’s do it here. Let’s vote on the proposal by Hansen, Steve Ballmer and other social entrepreneurs to use $200 million of the public’s credit and pay much of it back with tax money they would have had to pay anyway.

Note that everyone assumes that a public vote on any of these schemes is death. And what does that assumption tell us?

The scandal here is not what’s illegal. The scandal is what’s legal, normal and accepted. The scandal is that the political leaders in Seattle and Sacramento accept that it’s OK for a private, for-profit sports industry to use hundreds of millions of dollars in public credit and to structure the deals so that the public never gets to vote on them.

Thanks, Chris. I never thought I’d be a fan.

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