Friday, February 05, 2016

Indianapolis Star Finally Discusses All The Free Colts Tickets For The Insiders

People who've followed my blog for a long time know how often I've talked about the role all of the free sporting tickets given out to the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers games have in influencing key government decision-makers in their generous use of our taxpayer dollars to benefit the billionaire owners of the professional sports teams. Many of these free tickets are controlled by government-run or government-supported agencies and only get disclosed if an elected representative voluntarily reports them on their statement of economic interest or the media convinces the agencies passing out the free tickets to disclose the recipients of those tickets. The Indianapolis Star for the first time in its history broached the subject of who gets free tickets to suites for Indianapolis Colts games controlled by the Capital Improvement Board and Visit Indy.

The Capital Improvement Board, of course, is the municipal government that is run by unelected board members appointed mostly by the mayor but also the City-County Council and the county commissioners. It's actually controlled by the billionaire sports team owners and the downtown mafia, but you already knew that. It has an annual budget of about $150 million and oversees Lucas Oil Stadium, Banker's Life Fieldhouse, Victory Field, the Indiana Convention Center and several parking garages downtown. Visit Indy gets close to $10 million annually from the CIB to promote Indy's convention business. Both enjoy the use of suites at Lucas Oil Stadium, which The Star tells us have a market lease value of about $166,000 a year. The two organizations each pass out dozens of free tickets to each game, although their record-keeping is sloppy at best and the transparency in identifying the recipients leaves much to be desired. Visit Indy redacted the identity of most of its recipients, Those identified were mostly board members and their spouses or family members, employees and elected officials like council members or state lawmakers.

The Star report places no total value on the tickets. Judging by the price of prime tickets to Colts games, the value of those tickets each season easily reaches into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Catering costs to the CIB's suite totaled $19,000 over the three years examined by The Star (2012-14). The most frequent ticket-takers of the CIB suite tickets identified other than staff members were board members, including attorney Milt Thompson (99), Bose McKinney lobbyist Doug Brown (89), City-County Council President Maggie Lewis (75), Sheet Metal Union executive Jay Potesta (67) and IURC Commissioner Carolene Mays (48). Potesta actually lives in Washington, D.C. so he must be a frequent flyer between Indianapolis and the nation's capital so he can zip into town to attend board meetings and Colts games. Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops, who also sits on the CIB Board and earns close to $650,000 a year got free tickets to every single game. Presumably, the persons whose names Hoops thought needed redacted from the list he provided to The Star included the names of all of those convention decision-makers Visit Indy lavishly entertains at the public's expense to bribe them into hosting their conventions in Indianapolis instead of some other city.

Former Mayor Greg Ballard's name is not identified on any of the lists, although his office gets tickets to all of the games. The Star included a quip from Ballard when he honored former CIB board president Ann Lathrop at her last board meeting. "This almost looks like a Colts suite in here," he said, drawing laughter from the people in the room. "You're on the record, mayor," the CIB's attorney cautioned. That's Toby McClamroch, a partner at Bingham Greenebaum Doll, which bills the CIB about a million bucks a year for its legal services. His law firm also has its own suite at Lucas Oil Stadium, but McClamroch, too, was a frequent recipient of the CIB's free tickets, bagging 20 free tickets over the 3-year period.

The board members, naturally, defend the practice and assure the public the free tickets don't in any way influence how they vote as board members. "I am very very careful with respect to my 40 years of law practice to know the ethical lines between fiduciary responsibility and what's considered some sort of benefit," Thompson said. "Had I been asked, I would have given names of everyone that was invited (to games). No one ever asked me." Thompson, by the way, also serves on the board of the Indianapolis Indians, which got a generous, long-term lease agreement with the CIB for the use of Victory Field. Thompson assured The Star he played no role in the negotiations of the lease and abstained from voting on it. The fact he serves on the Indians' board alone should disqualify him from serving on the CIB's board.

The Star got an obligatory comment from Common Cause's Julia Vaughn, who is apparently the only person in the Star reporter's Rolodex to contact when such issues arise to speak from the public's perspective. "The board members making decisions regarding these teams and their facilities can't be objective when they are accepting expensive perks," Vaughn said. "It's a practice that needs to stop. At a minimum, the CIB board members who take advantage of these privileges should be required to fully disclose who they bring along for the free ride." I wonder if the CIB and Visit Indy were required to start issuing 1099s to the recipients of free tickets so they would have to pay income taxes on their value, they would be so quick to reach for them.

The CIB's CEO for life, Barney Levengood, naturally defends the practice. "Our Board members serve at no pay and spend hours of time tending to the critical business of the Capital Improvement Board," Levengood said. "We often have leaders of the civic, municipal, and convention sectors in our suite — maintaining and building our convention and tourism industry requires this work. Our guests also frequently include representatives of conventions that are considering Indianapolis as a destination." That's a load of crap. Check out the archived meetings of the CIB on Their meetings rarely last more than 30 to 45 minutes. You don't get appointed to the board unless you're a rubber-stamp person who understands the drill. Everything on the agenda has been decided before the board convenes. The board members don't even put on a pretense by faking a few questions here or there. They aren't good stewards of the taxpayers money. If someone has been using the CIB's largesse to misappropriate our tax dollars for their personal benefit, these empty suits sitting at the table would be the last to know about it. Remember how they unanimously voted to build Lucas Oil Stadium and then pleaded ignorance after the fact when they told us their was no funding mechanism to pay for its upkeep?


Anonymous said...

The link says was posted this morning. The story is not in my dead tree version of 2/5/16. It may come tomorrow? As to the merits, I imagine you have finally shamed duh Star. That is an accomplishment for the wide spread belief is that they have no conscience at all.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:55. Why are you still paying for the "dead tree version?" save you money and drop that shit.

Anonymous said...

It might be a start, but it's still very weak reporting by journalistic standards.

Pete Boggs said...

"Scoop Welsh" has earned a new nickname. "Dead tree" is beyond metaphor; for what's arguably jour-nihilism.

Mike Jasper said...

here is a link to 2014 CIB annual report.

Revenues of ~$183 million
still giving visit indy $10 Million +
Bankers Life Fieldhouse Operating Expense reimbursements $7.9 million
colt inducement payments $5.3 million
Public safety support payments?!?! $5.2 million
Other ?!?!?!?!?! $5.4 Million (per notes increase from $1.9 prior year is $3.5 million committed for natatorium)

Total liabilities per balance sheet $1.2 BILLION