Thursday, February 14, 2013

Indiana Taxpayers Forced To Pay For Tony George's $150 Million Mistake

Tony Hulman

No other place in America earns the title of ground zero for corporate welfare run amock where average citizens are compelled to feel the pain of the most wealthy and fortunate among us than the good 'ole state of Indiana. Endless deals to benefit the wealthiest among us are financed through tax, borrow and spend schemes that would make Bernie Madhoff blush, all purchased from the most corrupt of public officials in the America who see every vote and decision as a means to an end for making a buck to stick in their own pocket. The latest and greatest scheme is to raid the public treasury to enrich by $100 million the Hulman family fortune to benefit their famed race track purchased with play money by their benefactor--the late Terre Haute multi-millionaire industrialist, Anton "Tony" Hulman.


Tony Hulman left but one heir besides his elderly wife, a homely and unaccomplished daughter, Mary, whose only claim to fame was marrying a washed up former race car driver, Elmer George. Elmer met his untimely death on race day for the Indianapolis 500 in 1976 at the hands of Mary's lover, Guy Trolinger, in a farm house on the Hulman farm in Terre Haute  just weeks after Mary filed for divorce. A Vigo County grand jury in Terre Haute where the family owned many businesses, including the gas company, the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, WTHI-TV and WTHI AM and FM radio stations, and most of the politicians, ruled that the five bullets Trolinger fired into George's body was an act of self defense. Elmer's death was a blessing to the business tycoon, who wanted his son-in-law to have no part of running the family fortune when he passed on. A few years later, Mary made the news again when her beau passed out at an Indianapolis bar after imbibing a little too much alcohol and Mary wound up on the wrong side of the law when she decided to tussle with police and emergency responders who arrived at the scene to offer assistance to the unconscious Trolinger.

Flash forward to the 1990s when young Tony George, Elmer's only son, would step into the picture and try his hand at calling the shots at the crown jewel of the Hulman family empire--the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It begins with the creation of the IRL to seize greater control over the open-wheel racing series that set off decade-long split with its rival CART and took open-wheel racing in a downward spiral while the NASCAR series grew by leaps and bounds in popularity and wealth. As the IRL teams struggle for existence, Tony is forced to tap family money just to keep some of the teams afloat. As The Greatest Spectacle in Racing began losing its luster and fame and attendance declined precipitously, Tony took the old "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" tact and announced the inaugural running of the NASCAR race known as the Brickyard 400 in 1994 at the track theretofore famous world-wide for hosting just one race a year.

While the Brickyard 400 helped the Hulmans stop the bleeding temporarily, it was Tony's decision to jump into Formula One racing that would spell serious trouble for the family fortune. The IMS invested heavily in making new improvements to accommodate the many demands of Formula One's Bernie Ecclestone to host its first race for the world's largest open-wheel racing series in 2000. Eight years later and more than a $150 million poorer from the wasted investment on a race that never gained popularity and failed to earn a dime for the IMS, the Hulman family was left reeling in debt after Tony and Bernie parted company in 2008. The aging and increasingly haggard-looking heiress responded by ousting her son Tony as CEO of IMS and President of the IndyCar series in 2009. In 2011, the Hulman family fortunes began a bit of a rebound when it was announced that one of the largest oil finds in Indiana history was discovered on Hulman-owned land in Vigo County. The first test well gushed an astonishing 400 barrels of oil a day! The family's good fortune, however, continued to escape son Tony. Last year, Mary ousted her son from his last remaining position in the family business as a member of the board of directors of Hulman & Co. after she learned he was scheming with a group of race team owners to wrestle control of the IndyCar series from the Hulman-run company. J.R. Ewing he's not.

The Indianapolis downtown mafia, which for years has been itching to gain control of the Hulman family empire and, in particular, its famed IMS, saw its opening with Tony's demise, albeit less bloody than that of his late father, when it succeeded in convincing the old lady to install Mark Miles, the former head of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and host of the 2012 Super Bowl Committee, as its new CEO. The downtown mafia's goal in installing Miles was to permanently shore up its long-standing mantra that professional sporting events are the end-all, be-all for the economic future of Indianapolis and Central Indiana, and that professional sports can only thrive if billions of dollars in public investments are made to ensure their vitality. The IMS was always the missing link because, much to its chagrine, it defied the conventional view and somehow managed to build the world's greatest racing venue without the investment of a single dime of public dollars.

Now that the downtown mafia has secured control of the Hulman empire, it needed some hook for convincing a handful of skeptical lawmakers that state taxpayers should be asked to bail out and invest upwards of $100 million into the privately-owned IMS. They weren't really skeptical; they were just holding out for a better off, if you know what I mean. Yeah, Indiana taxpayers had forked over billions of dollars to benefit the billionaire owners of the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers, but in both of those cases, the downtown mafia could always hang its hat on the fact that the stadium and fieldhouse were publicly-owned facilities.

As luck would have it, an unlikely person enters the picture to come to their rescue as could only happen in Indianapolis. U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett pulls off the shelf a more than decade-old ADA complaint filed by the downtown mafia's go-to guy when you need a face of a handicapped person, Indianapolis attorney Greg Fehribach, dusts its off and takes a fresh look at it. Like an angel coming down from heaven, Hogsett, who's good friends with Fred Nation, a close and long-time confidante of the Hulman family, and who has accepted generous campaign contributions from the Hulman family in his past political endeavors, announced that the IMS had reached a settlement with the government under which the IMS agreed to make up to $25 million in investments to make the track fully compliant with the 1990 federal ADA law.

The ADA settlement provided an excuse for much hand-wringing by local news media and pundits about how the Hulman family could possibly afford to make those kinds of investments in these difficult economic times when the IMS had already sustained losses from declining attendance at its marquis event and its spectacularly catastrophic investment in Formula One racing. So after two years of plotting and scheming behind closed doors with the same elected officials who have received millions in campaign contributions, free tickets to sporting events and other favors of not insignificant value from the IMS and Hulman family members, the downtown mafia's front guy Miles, Mr. Rent-A-Civic Leader himself, unveils its latest and greatest scheme to divert up to an additional $100 million to subsidize yet another professional sports organization.

On cue, the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis Business Journal immediately lauded the deal and urged its passage. The Star, of course, counts on the racing events at the IMS to fuel its newspaper's revenues. For years, the IMS took care of management and reporters of the Star by providing them complimentary pace cars to drive during the month of May, in addition to lavish entertainment fit for a king. When one of its ace sports reporters got caught at the track with his pants down with an underage girl, the controversy was quickly swept under the rug without anyone having to go to jail. Star political columnist Matt Tully today weighed in with his predictable lap dog musings parroting the downtown mafia's talking points. Even the lone anti-corporate welfare holdout among the Star's editorial team, Dan Carpenter, chimed in with his blessing of the deal--apparently after being drugged and sent away to a Gannett-run re-education camp for hopeless idealists. Less than a week after the $100 million deal was announced, we appear to be well down the road to ensuring that Indiana taxpayers will shoulder 100% of the pain of Tony George's $150 million mistake, but you can all feel better about it because some wheel-chair bound guy who complained about not being allowed to enter the pit areas like others will get a nice pay check and be allowed to go where all of those other people with those all-important pit passes get to venture.

3 comments:

Flogger said...

Gosh, I did not realize, when our politicians talked about "Family Values" in the last election cycle they meant increasing the wealth of the Hulman, Irsay and Simon families via Corporate Welfare Programs.

Just when you think Corporate Welfare could not get worse in this state, along comes another scheme.

David Drasin said...

I think your posts are very important, but I doubt very much that Indianapolis is unique. When things happen in DC there is always a (often small) chance someone will notice, but when you get to state capitals and anything smaller than Chicago, all kinds of things happen like this (they do in Chicago and new York, too, but people write about it).

Anonymous said...

You should get your information correct before you write it. A lot of what you said is inaccurate.