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Even baseball has a PAC

Which of the following topics is of least concern to Major League Baseball (MLB) owners: a) their antitrust exemption, b) their Internet copyrights, or c) steroid use by their players?

In case there was any doubt, the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball Political Action Committee (MLB PAC) made clear that the answer was c) in June, when it made financial contributions to 14 congresspersons and senators. Recipients included six members of the commerce committees, which oversee Internet copyright laws; two members of the judiciary committees, which can revoke the antitrust exemption; and no one on the Congressional Committee on Government Reform, which, for obscure reasons, has taken an obsessive interest this year in steroid use among MLB players.

Major League Baseball is the only major sport that operates a PAC, which it formed in 2001 when Commissioner Bud Selig announced plans to "contract" the sport — i.e., eliminate two teams. Well, those teams were going to be eliminated from somebody’s district (okay, maybe just one; the other was in Canada), so the Senate Judiciary Committee threatened to revoke baseball’s unique antitrust exemption, which allows owners to run their sport with impunity (MLB is the only major pro sports league to enjoy this exemption). Selig formed MLB PAC to fight back with money — and for good measure hired Lucy Calautti, wife of Senator Kent Conrad, as his chief lobbyist.

In theory, owners (and other front-office execs) pitch in $10,000 per team to MLB PAC. But last year only 18 of the league’s 30 teams contributed. The Red Sox gave their share, with co-owners John Henry and Tom Werner each giving $5000 (the maximum PAC donation for an individual). But curiously, after their team won the World Series, they have not yet ponied up this year. Former Bostonian Frank McCourt has paid the dues for his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers — which was one of five ungrateful division-winners who failed to pay in 2004, along with the Yankees, Braves, Angels, and Twins. (Look through the PAC’s filings yourself at query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/dcdev/forms/C00368142.)

MLB PAC greases everyone’s palms, this year giving $15,000 to the House- and Senate-campaign committees of both parties and dividing another $38,000 evenly among Democratic and Republican senators. It even gave to both Bill Frist and Hillary Clinton.

It has given another $17,000 to Republicans and $7000 to Democrats in the House in 2005, but none of that went to Government Reform members. Only five of the reform committee’s 40 members have ever received a donation from MLB PAC. Maybe that’s why the committee subpoenaed players from dues-paying teams like the Red Sox (Curt Schilling), the Orioles (Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa), and the White Sox (Frank Thomas) to appear at its March hearings on steroids.

Issue Date: July 29 - August 4, 2005
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