SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen is behind a secretive effort to block Sacramento’s efforts to build a new downtown arena for the city’s professional basketball team, California’s campaign watchdog disclosed Friday after an investigation.
Hansen tried to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle until his bid was denied by the NBA earlier this year. The team’s new owners are working with city officials to build the team a downtown arena to replace the aging facility the Kings now call home.
But a Los Angeles law firm secretly donated $80,000 to a group gathering signatures to force a public vote on the arena plan.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission filed a lawsuit Thursday to learn the donor’s identity and revealed during a Friday news conference that it was Hansen.
Gary Winuk, chief of the commission’s enforcement division, said Hansen donated $100,000 just a month after the NBA denied his attempt to move the team. It was not immediately clear what happened to the additional $20,000 that was not reported by opponents who want to force a public vote before the arena can be built on the site of what is now a shopping mall blocks from the state Capitol.
"I made a mistake I regret," Hansen said in a released statement after the information was revealed.
The $20,000 is believed to still be with a political consultant who acted as middleman to funnel the money from Hansen to the Los Angeles law firm, Loeb & Loeb, and then to the group opposing the arena, Winuk said. He said the investigation is continuing.
The commission is dropping its lawsuit a day after it was filed, but Winuk said Hansen and the law firm could face a civil fine of up to $80,000 plus an administrative fine of up to $5,000 for each of at least three campaign-reporting violations.
“These are as sophisticated parties as you can get, and they should know better,” Winuk said. “Most people just comply when we call them. They just happened to make us take them to court.”
The following is the full statement released Friday by Chris Hansen:
I made a mistake I regret.
When our binding agreement to purchase the Sacramento Kings became a competitive situation and we were faced with both the prospect of seeing our transaction fail and losing our $30 million deposit, I engaged Loeb & Loeb to canvas the various opposition groups to gain an understanding of their efforts and the prospects of their success.
During this time I was approached through Loeb by the opposition about making a contribution to the opposition's efforts as part of a broader group and agreed to make a donation.
In this regard I would just like to highlight that I have never directly engaged with or even had any conversations or contact with STOP, Taxpayers For Safer Neighborhoods, or any the various consultants engaged in the Sacramento Arena opposition. It was also not my intent to be the primary financial sponsor of the opposition's efforts. I merely agreed to make a donation to the opposition in what had become a competitive and heated process.
I have not agreed to provide any further political contributions and do not intend to make any further contributions.
I would also just point out that the contribution was made in my personal capacity and not on behalf of our ownership group or my partners. In fact, I have never discussed the contribution with them to date.
While I'm sure everyone can appreciate how easy it is to get caught up the heat of battle, with the benefit of hindsight, this is clearly a decision I regret. I wish the city of Sacramento and Kings fans the best in their efforts and they have my commitment not to have any involvement in their arena efforts in the future.