Arizona Cardinals Demonstrate How Citizens United Will Help Sports Franchises Bilk Taxpayers

The Arizona Cardinals last month donated $5,000 to the political action committee affiliated with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), a move that, according to Politico, “appears to be the first time a National Football League club has institutionally contributed to a federal super PAC,” the organizations that can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and individuals thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

The Cardinals’ donation to Brewer isn’t huge, and given the nature of Brewer’s PAC (aptly named JAN PAC), why the team made the donation now is unclear. The implications for the future, however, aren’t hard to imagine, as the franchise’s choice to get political demonstrates how the Court’s decision in Citizens United, together with subsequent decisions expanding the allowance of corporate campaign cash in our elections, has changed the game for professional sports franchises the way it did for other corporations.

Across the country, professional sports franchises have negotiated various tax breaks and other public financing deals to get what they want — new stadiums, improved infrastructure, a more generous split of gameday (and non-gameday) revenues. The deals are popular with politicians, who soak up the promises of economic boosts and who, faced with threats of the team moving to a new city, are scared to be part of the group that let the team walk away. Popular as they may be, though, the deals leave taxpayers footing the bill when they fail to provide the promised economic boom, instead pushing cities and states into debt.

If politicians were easy to entice before Citizens United determined that a sports franchise (and its owners) could dump unlimited amounts of cash into their political action committees, imagine how easy they’ll be to sway now. Sports teams had amazing success extorting new stadiums and other deals out taxpayers even before they could flood politicians with unlimited amounts of cash. Now that they can, it isn’t hard to envision those politicians rushing to approve new deals for stadiums and revenue that benefit wealthy owners like the Cardinals’ Bill Bidwill and are as bad — and perhaps even worse — for their constituents as earlier deals. When franchises can open their wallets to buy political friends, taxpayers will have to open theirs even wider to pay for the luxuries the teams want.