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How Chris Kluwe, gay marriage and a reclusive billionaire could affect who runs the Vikings stadium

Minnesota Vikings

Should the personal beliefs of a CEO matter when a private company does business with a public entity? 

That question has come up in the ongoing bidding process to run the day-to-day operations of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium when it opens in 2016. In the business, it’s called facilities management, and — not surprisingly — some of the best-known facilities management companies in the world have submitted their names to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) to win the contract.

It’s a group that includes two Pennsylvania-based companies, Global Spectrum and SMG; one local TV station, The CW23; and Los Angeles-based AEG, which already runs the Target Center in Minneapolis.

That last bit is where things have the potential to get sticky. AEG is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anschutz Company, which is run by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz —well-known for quietly putting his money behind national groups that support conservative causes and oppose gay marriage. And the MSFA is making its decision at a time when the stadium’s chief tenant, the Vikings, have come under scrutiny for allegations made by former punter Chris Kluwe that the team fostered an intolerant, homophobic environment. 

AEG officials say Anschutz’s personal and political beliefs have never come into play in the operations of the company and its affiliates, which run more than 100 stadiums in the U.S. and overseas. Indeed, the company’s operation of the Target Center has gone smoothly for the city.

But for at least one local politician, AEG’s involvement raises concerns about whom the state chooses to do business with in operating a stadium built with no small amount of public money. The state is currently on the hook to fund $348 million of the nearly $1 billion facility, with another $150 million coming from the city of Minneapolis.

“It is an ethical dilemma,” said state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who led the state’s successful effort to legalize gay marriage in 2013. “In [Anschutz’s] personal role he has advocated to limit the freedoms and rights of citizens to marry whom they choose. He is clearly anti-gay and supports anti-gay efforts. It should absolutely be taken into consideration.”

Complicating the matter is the Vikings’ recent run of bad PR around LGBT issues. Last month, special teams coordinator Michael Priefer admitted to making anti-gay remarks — including “putting all the gays on an island and nuking it” — in a 2012 conversation with Kluwe, who has been an outspoken champion of gay rights. The team gave a three-game suspension to Priefer, who said the comments were made in jest. 

Dibble recently joined 17 other lawmakers in calling on the Vikings to enact a tougher punishment on Priefer, and the current controversy over the coach’s “violently homophobic” comments, Dibble says, doesn’t make the potential of doing business with AEG look any better. “The Vikings say that this is unacceptable and they are taking steps to make sure their organization upholds the highest level of tolerance and respect,” he said. “But I think they need to think about who they are contracting with and doing business with.”

Anschutz philanthropy

Anschutz began his career as an oil explorer, hitting a large deposit in Wyoming that allowed him to expand his business empire to everything from professional sports teams to newspapers and the movie business. He owns The Weekly Standard, one of the most influential conservative magazines in the nation, and has had his hand in the production of several major films with moral and political messages, including “Holes,” C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” and the documentary, “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ” In 2013, Forbes ranked Anschutz the 38th richest person in America, with a net worth of more than $10 billion. 

Philip Anschutz
REUTERS/Mike Blake
Philip Anschutz

Anschutz has used his billions to campaign against gay marriage and support other conservative Christian causes. In the early 1990s, he helped fund a ballot initiative in Colorado that aimed to overturn state laws protecting gay rights. The amendment passed on the ballot, but was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. He has also funded number of other conservative organizations, including the Institute for American Values. The think tank’s founder, David Blankenhorn, testified against gay marriage in the trial on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

But Anschutz giving stretches beyond his conservative views. Much of his money has gone to charities in his home state of Colorado through The Anschutz Foundation, which was established over 30 years ago as a private charitable organization and is separate from AEG. The only commonality between the two is that Anschutz serves as chair.

“In recent years, TAF has annually made in excess of 500 individual grants totaling $50 million to a wide variety of charitable non-profit organizations who focus on youth development and education, health, human services, core principles and quality of life. Included in core principles are constitutional rights which includes religious freedom,” AEG spokesman Michael Roth said in a statement to MinnPost. “The largest funding areas are youth development and education, health and human services.”

Removing politics from bidding process

The MSFA expects to award the contract sometime this month, but a spokeswoman couldn’t comment on the ongoing bidding process. “The MSFA is conducting a competitive bid process to choose a third party operator to operate, maintain and market the new Minnesota multi-purpose stadium,” MSFA spokeswoman Jennifer Hathaway said in a statement. “We cannot comment on proposers or their confidential proposals prior to the award of a contract.” Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson said it’s the team’s policy to withhold commenting on bids until after a contract selection has been made.

Other politicians are also distancing themselves from the MSFA’s deliberations, including the stadium’s biggest champion, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. “The purpose of the state's competitive bidding process is to remove politics from contract decisions,” Dayton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bob Hume said in a statement. “The governor believes it is important to respect the integrity of that bid process.” 

For Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, Anschutz’s views are “unacceptable,” but she noted that the state’s laws will protect LGBT rights in the state no matter who ultimately wins the bid. “Fortunately, if AEG is selected as the stadium operator, it will have to abide by our laws, which, in Minneapolis and Minnesota, include some of the strongest protections in the country for LGBT people and working families,” she said. 

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Comments (14)

I absolutely LOVE this. I

I absolutely LOVE this. I hope Zygi is dragged back and forth through the 9th circle of Hell, lol!

Let this be a warning to private enterprise; get in bed with government and you will pay a heavy price. You will be forced to take every kook's raving seriously. You will be forced to run your business using Mrs. Langston's kindergarten class as a model.

Let the denunciations begin!

Now that's funny!!!

Someone actually thinks Ziggy's going to think twice about a slight case of indigection vs. a $600 million dollar gift. Yeah, I'm sure he's really bothered.

You may be right. But in my

You may be right. But in my experience, successful, wealthy guys are used to running their businesses the way they want them run. Having to give lip service while angling for a fat taxpayer bankroll is one thing; having a guy like Dibble up in your grill is another.

Like I said, I hope every kook with an agenda lawyers up and runs Zygi through the ringer.

Everything Counts

I say it's just one more weed out method. If the state does not agree with the stance of the group, it's just one way to make the list smaller. Just like whether or not you have a college degree--doesn't always matter for the work, but often matters for the hiring.

That Chandler's a hoot

So if channel 23 gets awarded the contract are they going to show Friends reruns on the jumbotron during the off-season?

The feed to the jumbotron would probably be too expensive...

...due to its popularity, so it'll be the Brady Bunch.

To the Firm That Does the Best Job

The contract should go to the firm with the best overall value bid. The fact that a contracter owner's personal beliefs should weigh in the decision making shows the complete hypocrisy of those who preach "tolerance" and "Inclusion" and then instead act on their personal biases.

Yes, it matters

It's a cop out to claim that the bidding process is intended to remove politics from the process. First of all, it's BS up front. Politics is commonly intermixed in bidding. As long as the end result doesn't stink of cronyism or pocket lining, then the public generally ignores this fact (and sometimes even when the stench is pretty obvious).

Second of all, it's not wrong nor is it uncommon to put limitations on the contractors that an entity does business with. Major corporations regularly provide preference to contractors with certain attributes. For example, you'll find that most large corporations in MN actually give greater weight to contractors that have greater diversity than those without diversity. Those contractors become preferred providers and will be used unless they cannot provide something that a non-preferred provider can. If the bidding process/competition is sufficient and clean, this should not significantly affect the bottom line.

I would assert that it's even more important to put restrictions on potential contractors who could be employed by public money, and that those contractors operate in a manner consistent with state law (or federal law, depending on the level of government involved).

If those who hail the recent Hobby Lobby decision want to disagree, I'd like to point out that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If money is the equivalent to speech, then in a state where a majority voted for a gay marriage law, tax dollars shouldn't be used to benefit entities that actively oppose the law of the state.

Glass

If the Vikings want to be bird killers they should not get any public money. Bring on soccer instead.

Would it...

Would it be any different if Mr. Anschutz supported liberal causes and supported gay marriage?

You're asking the wrong question..

....the Question is whether you would follow or violate existing law.

Geese and Gander

While I'd normally say that politics shouldn't be a factor in these kinds of business decisions, the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby ruling has decided to change that. So if Hobby Lobby as a corporation inherits the personal beliefs of the Green family that owns it, then AEG must also possess the personal beliefs of Anschutz.

So in MN where gay marriage is legal, I think we're now obliged to spend our dollars in a way that respects the choices of our residents and doesn't support those who would work against us.

As Rachel noted, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Not just personal

Mr Anschutz is entitled to his opinions, but once he uses his vast fortune and influence to encourage discrimination against some of his fellow citizens his actions need to be part of public dialogue.

Would it be appropriate to give him the money of Minnesotans so he could use it to encourage discrimination in our state and elsewhere? This is not a theoretical question as he has already demonstrated his willingness to use his business profits to fight for the right to deny rights to his fellow citizens.

I am a person of modest means so my expenditures for the stadium are limited. Still, I don't want my $1.98 to be given to Mr Anshutz who would be happy to use it to encourage discrimination against my friends and neighbors.

How is that different?

How is that different from Michael Bloomberg and his organization that wants to make criminals out of law abiding firearm owners?