Major league baseball pitching money at lawmakers, lobbyists

Wednesday, May 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Major league baseball is stepping up to the plate at the only game in this town _ politics.

Baseball has increased spending on lobbying and political contributions as it seeks to block efforts in Congress aimed at stopping the sport from eliminating two money-losing teams.

The commissioner's office spent around $1.2 million on lobbying in 2001, more than double the year before, and established a political action committee last summer, when baseball was preparing its contraction plan.

In the first quarter of this year, the PAC made contributions to 10 members of Congress, six of whom are on either the House or Senate judiciary committees. Those committees are reviewing legislation seeking to prevent baseball from eliminating the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos.

The legislation would tweak baseball's antitrust exemption by making contraction and relocation of teams subject to antitrust challenges.

Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said a PAC lets baseball get access to important lawmakers.

``What most groups have found is that it's important to have a presence in Washington beyond just having a lobbyist,'' said Noble, whose organization tracks money in politics.

On the lobbying front, baseball paid its primary firm, Baker & Hostetler, $1.1 million last year and spent $100,000 on outside consultants.

The total was just under $600,000 in 2000, when baseball closed its in-house lobbying shop. The sport is now represented by Lucy Calautti at Baker & Hostetler. She is the wife of Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and the former chief of staff to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

Conrad has said he will not vote on the legislation if it reaches the Senate floor. Calls to Dorgan's office were not returned. Neither is on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Calautti said last year's lobbying numbers were comparable to spending in previous years, with 2000 an exception because baseball's lobbying shop was closing.

The lobbying activity ranged from discussing pending legislation with lawmakers and their staffs, to working with lawyers to help prepare baseball executives such as Commissioner Bud Selig for congressional testimony.

Although much of the lobbying was on preserving the antitrust exemption, baseball also promoted a ban on Internet gambling, which has twice passed the Senate but has stalled in the House; copyright protection of its games on the Web, which has not been introduced in Congress; and the continued post-Sept. 11 federal ban of banner-towing planes over stadiums.

Calautti said baseball lobbied virtually every member of the judiciary committees, arguing the sport has used the antitrust exemption to prevent teams from moving. Baseball made the point that leagues without the exemption, such as the NFL, have been powerless to stop teams from moving, alienating fans and hurting local economies.

She also argued that minor league baseball _ which has teams in nearly every congressional district in the country _ would be jeopardized if major league baseball lost its antitrust exemption. A major league team would not have exclusive rights to its minor league players without the exemption, baseball says, and therefore would be less likely to subsidize its minor league teams.

``Members of Congress really care about that argument _ a minor league team is kind of like having a Main Street business in your home town,'' Calautti said.

Among those receiving $1,000 checks from the PAC were four members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel's top Republican; Mike DeWine of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee's antitrust subcommittee; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

DeWine's communications director, Mike Dawson, said the contribution was one of 20 or 25 the senator received at a fund-raiser.

``Contributions don't influence our position on any issue,'' he said.

The PAC also gave $1,000 each to two members of the House Judiciary Committee: Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and Robert Wexler, D-Fla.

Baseball's PAC raised $55,000 last quarter from owners, executives and family members of a half-dozen teams _ the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.