- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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Weeks after his aggressive bid to buy and relocate the Sacramento Kings to Seattle failed, hedge fund manager Chris Hansen bankrolled an effort to undercut a deal the team's new owners made to build an arena in Sacramento.
Hansen, who donated $100,000 on June 21 to a political action committee attempting to halt the $448 million deal to build the Kings a new downtown arena, says he "made a mistake" by giving a Los Angeles law firm $100,000.
The firm of Loeb & Loeb secretly funneled $80,000 to a group gathering signatures to force a public vote on the arena plan, which includes funding of at least $258 million in public money.
"While I'm sure everyone can appreciate how easy it is to get caught up the heat of battle, with the benefit of hindsight, this is clearly a decision I regret," Hansen said Friday in a statement, noting the money came from him and not on behalf of the Seattle ownership group or its partners. "I wish the city of Sacramento and Kings fans the best in their efforts and they have my commitment not to have any involvement in their arena efforts in the future."
The donation was originally revealed in documents filed Friday with the California Secretary of State after a political watchdog group filed a lawsuit to compel the name of the donor to be made public.
Gary Winuk, of the watchdog group California Fair Political Practices Commission, said it wasn't clear what happened to the additional $20,000, though he said it might have been spent on other expenses. He said the investigation is continuing.
"These are as sophisticated parties as you can get and they should know better," Winuk said. "Most people just comply when we call them. They just happened to make us take them to court."
Hansen said the law firm approached him about making a contribution to the petition effort after he had hired them to gauge citizen opposition during the battle over the sale.
As part of an agreement put together by NBA commissioner David Stern, new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and Sacramento officials are being held to a timetable to keep the team on pace to be in the new arena by the 2016-17 season. If the arena plans were to fall apart, there is a chance the league's owners would reconsider relocation. A previous deal to build the Kings an arena in Sacramento collapsed in 2012.
The Sacramento Bee earlier reported Hansen's donation.
In May, NBA owners rejected Hansen's record bid that would have valued the Kings at $625 million. That forced the Maloof family to sell the team to software mogul Ranadive for a valuation of $534 million. Ranadive made a deal with Sacramento officials to build the new arena without a public vote, a factor that pushed NBA owners to vote against Hansen's strong bid.
Ranadive's purchase closed on May 31, but three weeks later, documents show, Hansen made the $100,000 donation.
A group named the Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, or STOP, which organized a signature drive to get an issue on the ballot next June, said it wasn't aware of Hansen's aid.
"We were working independently, and another group of paid signature gatherers was working alongside us," STOP spokesman John Hyde said. "We didn't know who was funding it. We certainly weren't aware Chris Hansen had donated."
Hyde said the group has more than half of the 22,000 signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot, and it will continue to collect them independently before a December deadline. There is also a lawsuit that has been filed against the arena project over the land where the city plans to construct the arena.
In a separate deal on Friday, the Golden State Warriors announced that Ranadive sold his stake in the team to venture capitalist Mark Stevens. Ranadive owned seven percent of the Warriors, which he purchased for $30 million in 2010, but had to sell when he bought the Kings.
According to Winuk, the donors to the anti-arena PAC were intentionally denying the public information that could help them decide whether to sign the petition. The group filed a lawsuit Thursday to learn the donor's identity and revealed during a Friday news conference that it was Hansen.
"Unbelievable,'' said state Senate President pro Tempore Darrel Steinberg, who is from Sacramento and was active in efforts to keep the Kings in town.
Kings and NBA officials declined comment to The Associated Press, as did Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star who led the fight to keep the team.
Suspicion about the origins of the money originally had fallen on the Maloof family that previously owned the team because the same law firm had long represented them. The watchdog group said it was dropping its lawsuit, but Winuk said Hansen and the law firm could face a civil fine of up to $80,000 plus an administrative fine of up to $5,000 for each of at least three campaign-reporting violations.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.