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Thursday, March 02, 2006

California Dealin': Senator Murray Gets $20k From Developer Who Benefits From Bill Sponsored by Murray

As Tom Chorneau of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, California State Senator Kevin Murray received $20,000 in legal consulting fees from Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) at the same time Murray was sponsoring a bill which would benefit AEG.

AEG is a privately held company owned by Phil Anschutz, which includes a diverse group of holdings, including professional sports teams, media outlets, and sporting and entertainment venues like the Staples Center in Los Angeles. AEG is one of the prime movers and shakers trying to develop an entertainment district/hotspot in downtown LA.

Senator Murray's bill, SB 4, would provide public financing to developers of stadiums, theaters, and other "performance" venues by selling naming rights, premium seat licenses, and sponsorship rights. Murray estimates the bill could save a stadium developer $100-300 million on a stadium deal. In 2002, AEG sought to build a professional sports stadium in downtown LA.

Only one group is listed as officially supporting or opposing the bill: AEG, which supported it.

So, Murray takes $20,000 for "consulting" from a company who directly benefits from a bill Murray introduced and pushed. Murray's defense: "everybody does it". What a role model.

There are at least three problems here:

1) A full-time public official is working on the side in a job for a company with interests before the state. In this case, that public official already makes $110,880 a year, two and half times the average household income in California. The company is a behemoth whose financial interests are frequently impacted in myriad contexts by state policy.

The people of California have every right to a legislature and government composed of individuals who work solely in the interest of the public. If Mr. Murray feels he must resort to self-dealing to supplement his six-figure salary, he should resign his office so that his constitutents might be served by a representative who puts their interests and concerns above his/her own.

2) That official received payment from a company whose financial interests directly benefit from acts undertaken by the official in his capacity as a public servant. Even if no explicit arrangement was made between Murray and AEG wherein Murray traded his public office for $20,000 . . . even if no one winked and no one nodded, the effect is the same. Murray got his and AEG got theirs, the taxpayers and voters of California be damned.

In other words, just because corruption may be legal doesn't make it right.

3) Californians are already cynical about their government and the stranglehold various financially powerful interests have over public policy in this state. Self-dealing arrangements like Senator Murray's with AEG, like Governor Schwarzenegger's deal with a publisher of muscle magazines, like Susan Kennedy's consulting contracts with a water company, all exacerbate that cynicism, weakening public participation in democracy in this state.

Such constant elevation of self-interest by those elected to represent the public undermines the core principles of representative democracy. Mr. Murray's "everyone does it" defense provides no comfort for those millions of Californian voters who feel let down by democracy, and no respite for those millions of California taxpayers who feel ripped off by the decisions of their government to benefit the financially powerful.

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