Chris Hansen, the Seattle investor who tried to buy the Sacramento Kings earlier this year, was unmasked today as the mystery donor behind the petition campaign seeking to derail the Kings' proposed new downtown arena.
Hansen's involvement in donating $80,000 to a group gathering signatures in Sacramento was revealed by a source this afternoon. The revelation came one day after the state's political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, sued the Los Angeles law firm that wired $80,000 to the signature-gathering campaign. The lawsuit demanded to know the identity of the donor. A court hearing had been scheduled for Monday.
Hansen's role in the anti-arena campaign is a dramatic development. Initial suspicion fell on the Maloof family, former owners of the Kings, because the family has long been represented by the law firm that wired the money, Loeb & Loeb.
Instead, Hansen made the donation a month after the NBA blocked his attempt to move the Kings to Seattle, the source said. After the NBA made its decision, Hansen dropped his bid to buy the team from the Maloofs. A day later, the Maloofs agreed to sell the Kings to a group led by technology executive Vivek Ranadive for $535 million.
Afterwards, Hansen told a radio interviewer in Seattle that, while it remains his dream to bring an NBA team back to Seattle, he regretted trying to grab the Kings away from Sacramento's loyal fans.
"It kind of made me sick to my stomach," Hansen said. He added that he would go after another city's team again only if he was convinced the team was going to leave.
Hansen has also held out hope that the NBA will grant his group an expansion team. The NBA left Seattle for Oklahoma City in 2008.
Hansen and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer teamed up on the bid to buy the Kings. They raised their bid twice, topping out at $625 million, in an effort to persuade the NBA to go along with their plan.
Since spring, a small group of volunteers known as STOP - Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork - has been circulating petitions to force a public vote on the city's proposed $258 million arena subsidy. Without a new arena, the NBA says the team will eventually leave.
Then in June, $80,000 was wired from the Loeb & Loeb law firm in Los Angeles to a Tulare-based political consultant who specializes in petition drives. The contribution should have been disclosed by July 31 but wasn't, prompted the FPPC lawsuit.
Last week two political consultants quit the petition campaign, saying they were taken aback by the secrecy surrounding the donation. STOP leaders have vowed to continue the volunteer effort, saying earlier this week they were more than halfway toward their goal.
But STOP has other problems. In particular, city officials say as many as 1,700 people who signed the petition have now submitted paperwork demanding their names be removed.
STOP needs 22,000 validated signatures by December to put the issue on next June's ballot.
Separately, attorneys for the city on Thursday characterized a lawsuit against the arena deal as "filled with extreme and slanderous allegations" against city officials and "a work of fiction."
That lawsuit, filed earlier this year by Sacramento attorneys Patrick Soluri and Jeffrey Anderson, alleged that the city's stated arena subsidy of $258 million is an illegal gift of public funds, and that city officials are concealing aspects of the deal.
The city response called Soluri and Anderson's claims opinions that are not supported by facts. A tentative hearing on the matter has been set for March of next year, according a representative from the city attorney's office.
Soluri said he had not yet seen the city's response.
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