|Tuesday, May 13
New PAC gave to 65 congressional candidates
WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball's political action committee contributed $108,000 to 65 congressional candidates last year, much of it to incumbents who sit on committees of strategic interest to the sport.
Federal Election Commission reports show that the PAC gave to 40 House candidates and 25 Senate candidates, about 60 percent to Democrats and 40 percent to Republicans. Baseball also contributed $170,000 in unregulated "soft money'' to the national parties in the last election, $95,000 to the Democrats, $75,000 to the GOP.
Baseball, the only sport with a PAC, formed the committee last year, when the House and Senate judiciary committees were considering legislation that would partially rescind the sport's antitrust exemption. Among other things, that exemption has given baseball the authority to prevent teams from moving from city to city, as has happened in other sports.
Baseball lobbied to preserve the exemption and made contributions to committee members in both houses of Congress. It also dropped plans to eliminate two teams, the idea that sparked the bill. The legislation never made it out of committee.
The sport also is working to preserve its copyrights on the Internet, an issue that comes under the jurisdiction of the House and Senate commerce committees. Most of the PAC's contributions went to members who sit on either judiciary or commerce.
"We give to people who love the game, not only to people who serve on the (important) committees,'' said Lucy Calautti, baseball's Washington lobbyist. "We believe if they love the game, they will fight for our issues.''
Roger Noll, a Stanford University economics professor who has written about the economics of sports, said it's no surprise that baseball would take an active role in politics.
"Good grief, what does baseball do that doesn't have a strong public policy component?'' asked Noll, currently a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
Noll cited baseball's antitrust exemption, its ability to depreciate players' contracts as business expenses, and its use of tax-exempt bonds to finance stadium construction.
"A very significant fraction of the wealth of baseball owners -- probably more than half -- is attributable to favorable federal policies,'' Noll said.
Decisions on PAC donations are made by Calautti; William Schweitzer, who runs Washington's baseball office with her; and commissioner Bud Selig.
Calautti said the balance of contributions between Republicans and Democrats probably will even out over time.
Selig's predecessor, Fay Vincent, who was forced out as commissioner in 1992, said Congress has real power over the sport. He said Senate pressure in the 1980s led baseball to award expansion franchises to Denver and Miami in 1991.
He recalled that senators, especially from Colorado and Florida, threatened to push legislation to rescind baseball's antitrust exemption.
Vincent said he doesn't remember any talk, however, of forming a PAC when he was commissioner.
"I think I would have been negative about it,'' he said. "Baseball is to some extent a public trust. I think it would be hard for me to link the public dimension with the political process.''
Noll said it makes sense for baseball to make PAC contributions, which he likened to the price of admission to get access to lawmakers.
"Any industry that has any kind of dependence on government is pretty much forced to do what they're doing,'' he said. "Unfortunately, this has become the cost of doing business.''