Jr. Senator Jon Kyle is at it again!

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Sports
The Politics Of Fantasy Baseball
by Tim Marchman
9 March, 2007



SPORTS

SOURCE: NY SUN

While I don't know which senator is the biggest baseball fan, I'm fairly sure I know which one baseball likes best. It's Arizona's junior senator, Jon Kyl.

This saddens me. I love baseball and would, along with millions of other Americans, throw rotten fruit at Mr. Kyl if I had a clear shot. For years he has been the most prominent senator speaking out against the supposed scourge of Internet gambling, which ranks with Trans fats and iPods on the list of things no one in government should ever care about.

This is actually a pretty bloodless way of putting it. Another way would be to point out that for eight years; Mr. Kyl has been unable to speak about online gambling without comparing it to crack. Last year, he led a press release with this line: "A Harvard professor once appropriately likened Internet gambling to crack cocaine use." His longstanding and mysterious advocacy of legislation aimed at the menace of the online card room culminated in last year's passage of Title VII of the Safe Port Act, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which effectively banned online gambling in America by making it illegal for American financial institutions to transfer funds to gaming operations. Furious, rotating noise was heard from the vicinity of Senator Goldwater's coffin.

The foolish, and probably illegal, nature of this legislation is well outside the scope of this column. For our purposes, the important point is that Major League Baseball loves the fact that you can't play online poker in the same way Jose Reyes loves reggaeton: with unnatural intensity.

Why this should be so isn't immediately obvious, but consider this: MLB spent a good part of last year trying to corner the fantasy baseball market, unsuccessfully arguing in court that player names and statistics are not public events, and raising the licensing fees for officially endorsed fantasy baseball games such as those run by ESPN well into the millions of dollars. This was part of a basic strategy to centralize the huge fantasy market around MLB's Web site, thus giving baseball a finger in every fantasy pie.

Though that strategy was dealt a blow by the August decision that MLB could not stop small companies from running fantasy games using baseball statistics, fantasy games remain a large and growing revenue stream for MLB (there are seven officially licensed fantasy games, with each licensee paying a reported $2.5 million) and an extremely valuable platform for the promotion of the sport. When you make an estimated $12 billion worth of annual gambling illegal, that frees up a lot of time and money for people to spend on the few legal games left standing.

Happily for baseball, Mr. Kyl's ban on online gambling includes a carve-out for fantasy sports. Five card stud might be crack, but apparently the crystal meth that is fantasy baseball is fine with the good senator, who obligingly cleared out a whole gang of rival dealers so that MLB and the other major team sports could sling their product on the corner. Head over to MLB.com and you'll be pointed to clean destinations where you can wager on baseball through fantasy sports leagues — a good, legal way to spend some of that cash you otherwise would have burned in your virtual crackpipe.

Not surprisingly, MLB expressed its love the way all good dealers express it, with green cash. Mr. Kyl, according to records accessed through the Center for Responsive Politics, raked in $41,398 from MLB executives and the game's political action committee last year.


That isn't a lot of money — certainly not enough to buy a senator — but if MLB were counted as a single corporate entity, rather than as a collection of 30 discreet businesses, it would have ranked as Mr. Kyl's sixth-most-generous contributor last election cycle, just $603 off being the fourth most generous.

Such was the passion Carole Moreno, wife of the Los Angeles Angels owner, Arthur Moreno, felt for Mr. Kyl that her sole donations last cycle were $1,000 to Wish List, a feminist PAC, and $4,200 to the rock-ribbed Mr. Kyl. Arthur Moreno also loved Mr. Kyl to the tune of $4,200, which was, aside from a $500 check to Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, all he gave any politico.

Carole Moreno's warmly expressed admiration for Mr. Kyl is a good clue as to what baseball really values in a politician right now, and it isn't their take on steroids or competitive balance. Those are dog and pony shows for outraged moralists like, well, me. The real action is elsewhere.

The steroid-related bloviations of Senator McCain, for instance, did not prevent MLB poobahs from shoveling $20,343 toward his Straight Talk America PAC. Rep. Tom Davis, in his guise as chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, waxed heavy on steroids in 2005, but it didn't keep MLB honchos from ranking among his top 20 donors — right in there with Microsoft, at $11,250. Senator DeWine, who once wasted your taxes holding hearings on revenue disparities within the game, counted up $21,200 in contributions from MLB bigwigs, and another $27,210 from the lobbying firm of Baker & Hostetler, whose main client, of course, is MLB. All three of these fellows were seen beating their chests and scolding MLB for various absurd reasons like athletes using drugs, athletes considering a strike, and because some ballclubs stink.

Another thing these politicians have in common with each other and with Mr. Kyl is, of course, their membership in the Republican Party. Make no mistake, MLB owners happily cut their checks to the donkey — around $280,000 funneled toward the Democratic senatorial and congressional committees, and another $72,000 to the Democratic National Committee Services Corp., will keep Hill staffers returning phone calls. But targeted giving on the part of MLB last cycle fell on key Republicans. Poor Rep. Henry Waxman, Mr. Davis's grandstanding Democratic counterpart on the House Government Reform Committee, had to run his reelection campaign without a dollar from the game.

Sadly for baseball, a look over the pattern of giving, gives off the feeling of a lot of bets gone bad, something of which Mr. Kyl would no doubt disapprove. Mr. DeWine wasn't the only MLB-backed loser. Baseball sent Washington's Senator Cantwell, a frequent sponsor of bills approving of various heroic baseball deeds, $14,800 — but her opponent, Michael McGavick, got $23,400. (Some appreciation!) In Virginia, Senator Allen got $9,400, Senator Webb $0. In Pennsylvania, Senator Santorum nearly doubled up on Senator Casey in baseball cash. It all looks ever so slightly sour for the national pastime, when you count up the tangible chits and look at the fact that the people holding them aren't in government because they lost their campaigns.

This being so, a few predictions. First, Mayor Giuliani will fall short in his bid for the White House — baseball's owners forked $21,400 toward his PAC last cycle, more than any of the other contenders. Call it the kiss of death. Second, expect that the next time some puffed-up senator wants to haul in baseball so as to be seen looking tough on C-SPAN, he or she might actually ask some tough questions, rather than speechifying with a wink and a nod while leaning on the union. Third, expect that so long as the tough questions are kept to nonsense such as steroids and competitive balance, baseball won't mind a bit. The only drug baseball cares about right now is its electronic meth. Don't get in the way of that, and the dollars will flow like wine.

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