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Originally published August 17, 2013 at 6:26 PM | Page modified August 17, 2013 at 9:02 PM

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Hansen’s secrecy might cool council on arena

Chris Hansen’s attempted sabotage of a Sacramento arena makes him a sore loser, yes. But it’s his foray into campaign “dark money” that’s going to cause him big political problems as he tries to build his own arena here.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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So it turns out that Sonics’ white knight Chris Hansen, the Rainier Valley kid who grew up to buy our city a beer and one day a basketball team, is actually Karl Rove.

Or more precisely, he’s like Rove’s moneymen the Koch brothers — billionaires who, when they aren’t getting their way, use their wealth to tilt the democratic process from the shadows.

The revelation last week that Hansen is the secret financier of a group trying to kill a basketball arena in Sacramento is troubling for all sorts of reasons. It’s classless, for one. The Sacramento Bee called Hansen, accurately, “a sore loser.”

That he made his sabotaging political move three weeks after going on radio in Seattle to pledge that he would never be a “predator” of other cities’ teams, well, there’s no one that reminds me more of Clay Bennett, the sweet-nothings whisperer who pirated the Sonics off to Oklahoma in the first place.

But none of that is necessarily fatal to the ongoing quest to bring the NBA back to Seattle. What’s going to cause Hansen problems here — as he continues to partner with the city and county to build an arena down in Sodo — is the secrecy part of this story.

To recap: Hansen, after losing out on buying the Kings basketball team, sent $100,000 to a Sacramento law firm to help fight the proposed Sacramento arena. The law firm acted as a go-between, sending the money, under its own name, to a newly formed committee that disbursed it to four political consultants for an anti-arena petition drive.

In politics this is called “dark money.” The money influences the most public of our processes, an election. While the source hides from the light.

It raised a ruckus in Sacramento almost immediately. Who was the “shadowy investor,” the press asked? While the use of dark money has exploded in federal elections due to U.S. Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United, it remains illegal to shield a contribution in many state and local elections, including in California.

So nearly two weeks ago, a complaint was filed.

Here’s the biggest problem: During all that time, Hansen said not a peep. He hid. He didn’t come out until California’s elections watchdog agency sued to smoke him out.

“The defendant’s wrongful conduct will cause great and irreparable harm to the voters of Sacramento by denying them information regarding the source money to collect signatures,” the agency’s lawsuit reads.

The same California agency is investigating the Koch brothers and affiliated groups for putting dark money into other state election battles. The agency’s head of enforcement even equated what Hansen did to that case.

Hansen said in his apology statement Friday that he got caught up in “the heat of battle.” Fine, but that doesn’t explain staying underground. Sometimes campaign disclosure problems are oversights or mistakes. This one sure seems like a gaming of the system.

I asked Hansen’s spokesman about this: “Any comment on the secrecy? It’s basically Koch brothers territory. Is there some explanation for why it took so long to come forward?” The spokesman lamely re-forwarded Hansen’s statement. In other words: No comment.

The arena plan remains, on paper anyway, a good deal for Seattle. But it just got a lot trickier. There are few values Seattle City Council members say they care about more than integrity in the election process. Their partner in this deal just showed what he thinks of that.

So council members are going to have to ask themselves: “Would you buy a half-billion-dollar basketball arena with this man?”

Barring some change in the ownership group or better explanation from our Sonics’ savior, right now I’d imagine the answer to be: No.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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