I should probably be taking this story more seriously than I am, but I cannot help but chuckle at it. A group called Stand Up For Santa Clara is alleging the San Francisco 49ers are behind “dark money” coming into the current Santa Clara city council election campaigns. Spokesperson Burt Field had this comment that I cannot help but keep re-reading:
“Money is being secretly laundered to influence Santa Clara politics and we believe the 49ers are likely behind the scheme,” said Burt Field, a spokesman for Stand Up For Santa Clara, the activist group making the claims. “The way this PAC is set up, it does not have to report its donors. This does not belong in Santa Clara and it’s not the type of politics we want to have here.”
Before we get into anything else, I have to admit, I am amused by Field’s use of the term “laundered” to describe what he believes the 49ers are doing. You can read the article for more details, but essentially, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called BLUPAC was formed recently, and it made a $49,265 contribution to a group in Long Beach, CA called “Citizens for Economic Council.” That group has then used the money to support several city council candidates that Stand Up For Santa Clara believes are friendlier to the 49ers interests.
Just to clarify that a bit, former mayor Jamie Matthews and some of his cohorts on the city council worked extensively with the 49ers to get Levi’s Stadium built. There were members of the city council, including current mayor Lisa Gillmor who were critical of the deal and have been regularly critical of the 49ers operations.
Matthews stepped down from his job as mayor after Super Bowl 50, leaving numerous questions to be answered. The 49ers have been in the midst of trying to get their rent lowered, provided for by a clause in the lease. Gillmor and others question how the numbers have been figured out, and the 49ers have since filed for arbitration, again, as per the terms of the lease.
We could spend days talking about the 49ers bad relationship with the city council. But, back to the idea that the 49ers are laundering campaign contributions. As I think most people know at this point, American political campaigns are generally overrun with money. Dark money involves campaign contributions that allow for the donor’s identity to remain unknown. There are various limits to be enforced, but then you’ve got PACs and Super-PACs and so forth.
I have no idea if the 49ers are involved in trying to influence the Santa Clara city council elections. At the same time, I would bet a lot of money they are involved. But even if they are, what they are doing is not illegal. It’s a part of the scummy process we have in place that results in too much money influencing elections. Big money interests are what get represented, whether it be in national elections, state elections, or even a city council election. It’s a crappy system, but that’s what’s legal.
Laundering might be the sexy term to use, but I think it’s mostly just Fields trying to claim the PR turf. People hear the word “laundered” and they immediately think of gangsters and their accountants. If the 49ers are doing this, it’s kind of scummy, but that’s what politics is about.
The Yorks are in a position to make some serious money over the life of Levi’s Stadium. Franchise value alone is going through the roof, and they are undoubtedly raking in a sizable chunk of money. They have bills to pay, but it is virtually impossible for an NFL owner to lose money. And that factors in teams playing in old, decrepit stadiums. In light of what they can get away with in the current political financing system, the Yorks would be fools to not do this kind of thing. This campaign could prove huge for the city of Santa Clara and the 49ers, but it’s just a drop in the bucket of campaign finance slop in this country.