CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS: About that $10 million we’re giving you…

Earlier this week, Charter Communications, Inc., “a Fortune 500 company and the fourth-largest cable operator in the United States,” became Governor Malloy’s ‘Next Five’ Corporate Welfare recipients.  With revenue of $1.9 billion during the last financial quarter, the company did lose $83 million, but that was an improvement over the same quarter the year before, when Charter lost $107 million.

For most of us, not enough revenue to cover expenses poses a problem.  As I can attest, banks seem to frown on giving, or even loaning money to people whose income is deemed inadequate or insufficient.

But we don’t call our economic system “advanced capitalism” for nothing.

In return for promising to create 200 jobs, Charter will receive a taxpayer-funded 10-year loan of $6.5 million with an interest rate of 2 percent.  Even better, the Connecticut Department of Economic Development will defer principal payments for the first three years.  If the company does create the jobs, the entire loan will be forgiven.

The St. Louis Business Journal wrote a detailed article following the announcement.  The good news for them is that the company has said that moving its corporate headquarters will not lead to any lay-offs.  In fact, apparently without any state funds, Charter’s social media specialist explained that the company will be adding 300 new jobs in their St. Louis offices.

Ten years ago, Charter purchased their present St, Louis headquarters for $43.5 million.  With approximately 16,800 employees nationwide, about 3,000 of Charter’s employees are now working in St. Louis.

According to Governor Malloy’s press release, Charter is the ninth company to participate in the “Next Five” Corporate Welfare program, which is one of a number of economic development programs administered by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

The press release explains that the $6.5 million will go toward Charter’s costs for tenant improvements and the purchase of furnishings and office equipment.  Considering the company will start with about 100 employees at the site, those keeping track will realize that our taxpayer subsidy equates to about $65,000 worth of furniture and improvements per employee.

The Stamford location must come as especially good news to Charter’s new chief executive officer, chief operating officer and chief marketing officer.  All three left Cablevision Systems Corporation in Bethpage, New York, earlier this year, but never moved their homes to St. Louis.

As an aside, the final sentence of the Governor’s press release states that the package, “also includes funding provisions for future job growth,” but for some unknown reason, it doesn’t quite get to explaining what that might mean.

They’re BACK! TicketNetwork moves to “corner” the world market by controlling domain names ending with “.tickets”

And now for something completely different…

Tickets TLD LLC, a subsidiary of TicketNetwork Inc., has applied to purchase the “Top-Level Domain” name; .tickets. Tickets TLD LLC, a Delaware company, was registered in Connecticut on April 10, 2012.  Tickets TLD LLC uses the TicketNetwork’s headquarters as its business address.  TicketNetwork Inc., which is also a Delaware company, was registered, in Connecticut, by Don Vaccaro in 1996,

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), who controls all domain names (i.e. .com, .org, .net), is in the process of selling off additional domain endings.

Tickets TLD LLC is one of five companies angling for control of the domain ending; .tickets

Although ICANN allows the public to comments on applications such as the one put in by TicketNetwork, and the period for making such comments was extended, the period ends tomorrow, September 26, 2012.  The link to make comments is:   https://gtldcomment.icann.org/comments-feedback/applicationcomment/viewcomments

For many Connecticut residents, TicketNetwork is known as Governor Malloy’s “First Five #2.”

In July 2011, Governor Malloy and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith traveled to South Windsor to give TicketNetwork a $6 million dollar publicly funded economic development package in return for agreeing to create a least 250 jobs.”

Malloy used the event as opportunity to call Don Vaccaro, TicketNetwork’s CEO,  a “serial entrepreneur” and claimed Connecticut needed more people like Vaccaro because, “in their very fiber, their very bone marrow, have the ability to come up with great ideas, great concepts, bring to the market place, prove them and grow them.”

The “love fest” would have gone off smoothly, if Hugh McQuaid, of CT Newsjunkie, hadn’t asked Malloy and handlers about the fact that Vaccaro and TicketNetwork were suing the Bushnell’s CEO David Fay because Fay, speaking at a legislative hearing, had referred to TicketNetwork as ticket scalpers.  Apparently they prefer to be called ticket resellers, and so they sued the Bushnell for slander.

In addition, Vaccaro was facing a very serious sexual harassment lawsuit from a former employee.

But the Malloy Administration dismissed the concerns, claiming that they weren’t aware of these publicly known lawsuits.   Malloy’s spokesperson went so far as dismissing the sexual harassment issue saying it was irrelevant.

Fast-forward to February 2012, and TicketNetwork’s CEO is back in the news, this time for getting himself arrested and charged with a hate crime, threatening, breach of peace, first-degree criminal trespass and interfering with a police officer at an Oscar party at the Real Art Ways in Hartford.

At that point, the Malloy Administration apparently had enough. TicketNetwork announced that it was withdrawing its application for economic development funds and giving up the $6 million in state grants, and Governor Malloy directed Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith, “along with Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein and his top legal adviser, Andrew McDonald, to examine the state’s relationship with TicketNetwork.”

Commissioner Smith told reporters that “After this occasion, if we do another deal with a privately held company, I think, yeah, you’ll probably see us do a little bit more due diligence around both the CEO and potentially other members of the staff.”

Now, comes the late news that TicketNetwork is reaching for world-domination, by purchasing the rights to control the domain name ending, “.tickets”

In their application to control the .tickets domain, Tickets TLD LLC writes, “The .TICKETS TLD would create an easily identifiable Internet space where venues, performers, performances, and booking agents can create websites dedicated to ticketing for any given event, and Internet users know they can go to find precisely the tickets they are seeking. This creates value for registrants in that they can streamline the ticket sales process, offering greater diversity and more targeted value to ticket seekers. Ticket seekers would save time and gain greater access to tickets for events and performances they were seeking.”

By owning the rights to .tickets, Tickets TLD LLC would not only be able to control and sell any domain that ends with the words .tickets, but would be able to, “designate a set of premium domain names” that would be, “set aside for distribution via special mechanisms.”

Public comments to date include endorsements from former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey, Rufus Edmisten, North Carolina’s former Attorney General and former Secretary of the State, and Connecticut’s own State Representative Tim Larson.  Larson writes, “Today I want to add my name to the list of supporters for Tickets TLD LLC to administer .tickets web site requests…The creativity and drive that the employees and leadership of TicketNetwork possess have always been a great source of new innovation and leading-edge technologies in their industry.”

Meanwhile, opposition to the application submitted by Tickets TLD LLC comes from the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC).   FAC writes, “We would like to draw the evaluators’ attention to the fact that Tickets TLD LLC, through its parent, Ticket Network, or subsidiaries of Ticket Network or affiliated companies of Ticket Network, has registered 100s of domain names that include artist, sports teams or venue names.”

Another critical comment comes from the group that represents Broadway venues.  They claim that, “The parent company of Tickets TLD, LLC is TicketNetwork, Inc., a well-known operator of ticket resale sites. TicketNetwork and its affiliates have registered over 3000 domain names.”  The group continues, “We are concerned that TicketNetwork has a long history of registering domains that incorporate the names of Broadway shows. Incorporating the names of well-known Broadway shows and other brands into domain name registrations evidences a disregard for the rights of the owners of these brands. We are of the opinion that the practices of TicketNetwork with regard to domain name registrations make the applicant unfit to be the registry operator of .Tickets.

As noted above, public Comments on the request by the TicketNetwork group to control the domain, .tickets, can only be made through tomorrow, September 26, 2012.  The site to make comments is: https://gtldcomment.icann.org/comments-feedback/applicationcomment/viewcomments

A special thanks to a Wait, What reader who sent in this tip.

A search on the word TicketNetwork will bring up earlier Wait, What? posts on this company, its CEO and the their relationship with Malloy Administration.

Bridgeport, Bass Pro and the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution

Now it’s true that Bass Pro sells guns, so I’d expect the 2nd Amendment to come up in the discussion about Bass Pro coming to Connecticut, but Freedom of the Press and the 1st Amendment? (really?)

Well Mayor Bill Finch’s Chief of Staff, Adam Wood, found a way to do it.

The website Only In Bridgeport sets the scene

For those eager to see how “politics” really works, let’s return to last week’s Wait, What? post about how Bass Pro and Carbela’s have been extraordinarily successful in getting taxpayers to fund their construction projects.

Recall that a watch-dog foundation, The Franklin Center, found that Bass Pro shops and Cabela’s “received or are promised more than $2.2 billion from American taxpayers” over the past 15 years.

Six years ago, Governor Rell and the City of East Hartford spent nearly $30 million to get Carbala’s to build a 200,000 square foot store in East Hartford.  Jobs, increased tax revenue and an anchor tenant for a major new retail and housing project were among the promised benefits.

Thus, taxpayers “paid” about $120,000 for each new job, most of which pay just over minimum wage, the town has received virtually no additional tax revenue and there has been no additional construction on the site.

Two months ago, in July, Governor Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch cut a deal with Bass Pro to open a store and anchor a new project in Bridgeport.  There is still no word on the size of the public subsidy, but the message from elected officials was Bass Pro will create jobs, increase revenue and attract other business to the area.

One can debate the efficacy of this type of economic development policy, but it’s what happened next that really says something about the health of our democracy.

A month after the big Bass Pro announcement, on Wednesday, August 8th, 2012, Mayor Bill Finch’s Chief of Staff, Adam Wood, sent out an email to a broad range of government and business leaders blasting the Connecticut Post and claiming the newspaper was “hurtful to all of our efforts to improve our city.”

The subject line of Wood’s email read; “A message to Bridgeport leaders regarding CT Post coverage–inaccurate and misleading–A call to action.”

His diatribe included a direct attack on one of the Connecticut Post’s columnists, Keila Torres, who had recently written a piece critical of the way the Mayor and City Council had framed the up-coming ballot question that seeks to trick voters into changing the city charter to do away with the democratically elected board of education, and instead, allow the mayor the simply appoint the board.

However, the real issue that set Finch’s aide off was his belief that the Connecticut Post had been unfairly attacking Bass Pro Shops and the Malloy/Finch’s plan to bring the store to the Bridgeport. At the front end of the effort to woo Bass Pro to Bridgeport, Adam Wood had actually flown to Las Vegas to meet with corporate officials.

To frame the rationale for a “call to action” against the Connecticut Post, Wood claimed that, “Just this summer (the mayor) announced Bass Pro Shops as the anchor tenant at Steel Point and was hammered by the Connecticut Post with 9 negative articles in a row.”

Actually, a detailed review of the Connecticut Post’s archive indicates that Wood is totally incorrect.

There were never 9 negative articles in a row “hammering” Bass Pro.   There were a series of positive articles when the plan was announced.  Later there were four articles related to the fact that the federal government was suing Bass Pro because the company refused to hire Blacks and Latinos and a couple of articles that were related to the controversy surrounding Bass Pro’s role as a major retailer of guns in the United States.

Throughout the time frame, there were also some editorial pieces, most were primarily positive but some did raise these more controversial issues.

To reach the magic number 9, Wood is either counting letters to the editor or more likely, a number of national stories that did, in fact, mention Bass Pro, but had nothing to do with Bridgeport.

Those stories were not written by the Connecticut Post, but picked up by the Associated Press.  The Connecticut Post and virtually every other paper in the United States ran those stories.  And that was because they were stories about the Colorado movie theater massacre.

These national stories mentioned Bass Pro because in May, after purchasing a Glock pistol at one store, the movie theater killer purchased a shotgun from a Bass Pro Shop in Denver, Colorado that he used in the assault.  A few days later, the killer purchased an AR-15 assault rifle at a different store, and then, the next day returned to the first Bass Pro Shop to purchase another Glock handgun.  All the purchases were legal under federal and state law.

But, putting aside why Finch’s aide was upset is the bigger question of what happened after he sent out his email.

Upon receiving the email from the Mayor’s Office, the President of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council sent an email out to his board saying, “One of the key needs of any city that is working hard to build its tax base, grow jobs, and improve its image, is to have as much positive media coverage as is possible… The Connecticut POST is one of the key sources of local news, and, therefore, it plays a key role in helping to mold the image and perception of the city.”

“Certainly the POST has a journalistic obligation to report the news, and report it accurately. It also has on obligation–as a taxpaying, job generating, member of the community–to be a partner with us in economic development and image enhancement…,” added the business leader.

He concluded with, “My ask of you is to–when you get a chance and by whatever method you choose–let the POST know of your commitment to Bridgeport and to let the POST know of your desire to increase the level of positive news for the city.”

Okay, so the Mayor and his aide are upset that the newspaper isn’t writing positive enough stories about Bass Pro, the Mayor’s aide sends out a “call for action,” the head of the business community then diplomatically asks his members to “let the POST know of your desire to increase the level of positive news for the city.”

And the response?  When the President of Bridgeport Hospital, Bill Jennings, gets the email, he writes back saying, “I support this and will assist in delivering the message. The pile-on regarding Bass Pro is not only counter productive, but despicable. And represents a new low.”

Despicable? A new low?

What exactly is despicable and a new low?

In their capacity as public officials and business leaders, do they think it is “despicable” and “a new low,” for a newspaper, working under the protections of the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution, to cover ALL the issues surrounding a proposed government action?

Is it despicable that the Connecticut Post reported that Bass Pro was being sued by the United States Government, after a two-year exhaustive investigation, that found Bass Pro refused to hire black and Latinos at most of its stores?

Or is it despicable that the Connecticut Post covered community concern about whether there would be an increase in violence if a major new gun seller moved into the city.

The Connecticut Post ran editorials and columns, the majority of which seemed to support the Bass Pro project.

So their problem seems to be the “news” and not the “commentary” part of the paper.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems pretty scary and dangerous when elected officials and their staff, along with business and community leaders, start calling for “action” against newspapers, or suggesting that what is clearly reasonable news coverage is, in fact, “despicable,”

Next the President of Bridgeport Hospital will be writing that it is despicable that the Connecticut Post is covering the extent of safety violations and medical mistakes at his hospital.

 

For more check out Only In Bridgeport Post http://onlyinbridgeport.com/wordpress/mayors-office-issues-call-to-action-against-connecticut-post-wood-takes-post-to-woodshed-for-inaccurate-and-misleading-coverage/

Connecticut: The State of Modern Capitalism:

The concept that Connecticut taxpayers need to pay the world’s biggest hedge fund $115 million dollars to stay in Connecticut is, understandably, a hard thing to truly understand.  They managed to pay their CEO $3.9 billion last year and we have to cough up $115, or they’ll move?

But of course, Bridgewater is not the only private corporation that taxpayers are subsidizing.

In fact, while cuts are being made to vital services, more and more companies are demanding what is, in essence, a ransom.  If we taxpayers don’t pay the ransom, they won’t relocate to Connecticut, or even worse, they’ll leave and take their jobs with them.

Take, for example, the situation that occurred two months ago, when on Sunday, July 8, 2012, more than 400 people joined Governor Dannel Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch, Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops and a “host of outdoors celebrities from the world of fishing, bullriding and NASCAR,” for a press conference at Bridgeport’s Steelpointe Harbor industrial site.

The event was to announce that Pro Bass will build a 150,000 square-foot store, a store that will serve as the anchor tenant of Bridgeport’s plan to develop the now vacant Steelpointe area.

According to press reports, the agreement was the product of nearly a year of negotiations between the State, the City and Bass Pro Shops.  The full subsidy package remains vague, but according to the Malloy Administration, the project “is expected to generate at least 250-300 jobs.”

Governor Malloy proudly proclaimed, “This is about jobs, and its great news for the City of Bridgeport…Bass Pro will be a draw for people from throughout the region, one that will help revive the local economy.”

And Mayor Bill Finch added, “Today’s announcement marks a historic moment for the City of Bridgeport and Steelpointe Harbor. Bass Pro Shops’ investment in Bridgeport will create hundreds of jobs, generate new tax revenues and bring economic growth to the City. They are a proven brand that will generate interest and attract customers from throughout the region. Bass Pro Shops is committed to Bridgeport and we are proud to have them as a major anchor tenant at Steelpointe Harbor.”

On behalf of the business community, Joe McGee, vice president of public policy with the Business Council of Fairfield County, and a former commissioner of the Connecticut Development Authority (the state agency responsible for attracting business to the state) said, “Bass Pro is not just a Bridgeport opportunity. It’s a regional opportunity. A Bass Pro competitor — Cabela’s — continues to enjoy significant success at the other end of the state in East Hartford several years after opening.”

For the politicians and business leaders in attendance, the day could not have gone better.

So what about the Cabela’s story:

Six years ago, almost to the day, a different Connecticut governor and a different major outdoor retailer held a similar press conference.  Governor M. Jodi Rell, the Mayor of East Hartford and the corporate leadership of United Technologies Corporation and Cabela’s, held a press conference at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field to announce an agreement that Cabela’s would build a 200,000-square-foot “superstore,” its first store in New England.

The onlookers were told that Cabela’s is “a significant cash generator” and the new store at Rentschler would “benefit the Hartford area.”

In Cabela’s situation, the Connecticut Development Authority wooed Cabela’s with a $10 million incentive package for the company and another $12 million to build roads and make other infrastructure improvements on the site.  To sweeten the deal, East Hartford’s Town Council approved a ten-year tax abatement plan that would save Cabela’s $6.7 million in property tax payments.

As with Bridgeport’s Steelpointe Harbor site, The Rentschler Field plan was looking to Cabela’s to be the anchor tenant for a $2 billion development that would include stores, hotels, offices and high-tech companies. A study conducted by the University of Connecticut predicted that the Rentschler Field project would create 6,000 to 8,000 jobs and generate $40 million in state revenue and $57 million in local taxes, every year.

It wasn’t long before officials had to admit that, “The presence of Cabela’s, considered a retail super magnet, hasn’t been enough to persuade companies and developers to invest money at Rentschler.”

By the beginning of 2009, East Hartford Mayor Melody Curry was quoted as saying “I think we were expecting to see more growth and development than we’ve seen so far.”

Now, six years after the State of Connecticut and East Hartford “invested” nearly $32 million in public funds to attract Cabela’s, there is no sign of the projected $40 million, a year, in state revenue, nor is East Hartford getting its $57 million.  In fact, after letting Cabela’s keep nearly $7 million in what would have been their share of local property taxes, in about 2016, Cabela’s will finally start paying East Hartford about $750,000 a year in real estate taxes.  At that rate the taxpayers of East Hartford won’t even recoup their investment until 2026.

The question arises, if Connecticut’s taxpayers got burned in 2006, why did Governor Malloy and Mayor Finch engage in the very same strategy in 2012?

Was the 2006 experience just bad luck?

The answer can be found in an investigative report conducted by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a non-partisan, independent watch-dog group outside of Washington D.C.

The Franklin Center found that Bass Pro shops and Cabela’s “received or are promised more than $2.2 billion from American taxpayers” over the past 15 years.

The study found that, “The stores are billed as job generators by both companies when they are fishing for development dollars. But the firms’ economic benefits are minimal and costs to taxpayers are great.”

The researchers noted, with some irony, that, “the amount of tax dollars that have been poured into these two companies would be enough to purchase every man, woman and child in the United States their own fishing pole.”

The Franklin Center report, released in August, found that:

  • “Cabela’s has received $551 million in local and state assistance during the past 15 years.
  • Bass Pro Shops received $1.3 billion in local and state assistance during the same period.
  • The federal government helped ensure liquidity for Cabela’s’ credit card division by providing $400 million in financing for the purchase of the company’s securitized debt.
  • Both firms have a history of targeting rural or smaller suburban communities and negotiating deals that involve extensive borrowing on the part of the municipality to build a store.
  • In fact, Bass Pro Shops often pays comparably little toward the construction of its own stores. While this sometimes is the case with Cabela’s, its development schemes tend to involve elaborate agreements that include massive outlays for public spectacles in the midst of the retail setting.”

According to the report, Stacy Mitchell, author of Big Box Swindle, said that Cabela’s and Bass Pro always seek to convince elected officials that the store will be a major tourist attraction.

And even as Connecticut and Bridgeport were signing on the dotted line, it turns out the Franklin Center had discovered that, at least Cabela’s, has “begun to rethink its strategy, which has reaped it hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives.”  According to a top Cabela’s corporate official, “We have come to the conclusion that the places that are most likely to offer incentives are the places we are least likely to want to build.”

And as to the claim that the new Bass Pro will lead to jobs for Bridgeport residents, an investigative report by Brian Lockhart, a Connecticut reporter for the Connecticut Post and Hearst newspapers, discovered that both the Malloy Administration and the Finch Administration knew, but did not reveal, that Bass Pro was facing allegations that, “the company since at least November 2005 has denied qualified blacks and Hispanics retail positions.”

As the Federal Government’s lead attorney wrote, “Our investigation lasted over two years…(there was) a pattern or practice of discrimination…going on at virtually all Bass Pro stores across the country.”

So, despite knowing that the promised economic nirvana that would come with helping build a Cabela’s in East Hartford never occurred and that Bass Pro was facing discrimination charges for refusing to hire blanks and Hispanics, Governor Malloy and Mayor Finch told the assembled on July 8th of this year, “Bass Pro Shops’ investment in Bridgeport will create hundreds of jobs, generate new tax revenues and bring economic growth to the City.”

And on top of that, we still don’t know what Malloy and Finch promised Bass Pro in order to get them to say they’d build a new store in Bridgeport.