Consumer advocate Ralph Nader told Washington trial lawyers Saturday that the public got hoodwinked in a publicly funded plan to build a new Seattle Seahawks stadium.
Billionaire Paul Allen’s successful plan to get the public to pay for most of the $425 million stadium marks the first time in U.S. history that a special interest dictated an election, Nader said.
“He got the special election day and paid for the official expenses of the election, apart from the $5 million he spent to propagandize it to the narrow 51 to 49 percent victory,” Nader said. Such special interest control of the public process is outrageous, he said.
The June ballot issue was rejected by most voters in Spokane and Eastern Washington, but got strong support in Seattle and Western Washington.
Washington taxpayers will pay for 80 percent of the cost of the stadium and exhibition hall and get 20 percent of the profits from its operation.
After the stadium is built, taxpayers will be responsible for any operating losses at the facility in Seattle. “That’s quite a deal for a guy who made $2 billion in the stock market in the last six weeks” and is now worth an estimated $16 billion, Nader said.
“He made $2 billion in a little over six weeks, after buying an election that’s going to cost the taxpayers $600 million in principal and interest over 20 years,” Nader said.
He said Allen easily could have built the stadium with his money. “These are mega-billionaires who are always rallying against government interference and praising free enterprise,” he said. “Yet, when it comes to an opportunity where they can privatize their profits and socialize any losses and become freeloaders on the back of the taxpayer, they’ll take it.”
Nader also talked about a trend by corporations to bring lawsuits against citizens who oppose projects.
Business groups have filed about 1,000 of the actions that some now call SLAPP suits - Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
“It’s a nightmare, and the number of them is growing,” Nader said.
In Texas, he said, a 60-year-old woman and her 82-year-old mother who organized a citizens opposition group were sued in March by a company that wanted to expanded a garbage site. The citizens blocked issuance of permits needed by the company.
The citizens then were sued for defamation of the company’s reputation, interference with economic relations and racketeering.
“This company brought the racketeering charge against this little old woman because her alleged lies were transmitted by phone,” Nader said.
Such suits have a chilling effect on other citizens who may want to oppose a development in their area, he said.
Nader also blasted President Clinton’s record on consumer issues and said Republican Presidents Reagan, Bush and Nixon did more for consumers.
“He’s refused to make a single consumer policy speech for his administration, and refuses to have a special adviser on consumer issues in the White House,” Nader said.
Even regulatory agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration have become toothless tigers under Clinton, the consumer advocate said.
He said the $368 billion settlement between states - including Washington - and the tobacco companies is “terrible.” Because of that settlement, Nader said, the Food and Drug Administration won’t be able to regulate nicotine levels in cigarettes.
But the tobacco companies will be able to deduct settlement costs from their taxes and pass costs onto consumers. They’ll also avoid future class actions and punitive damages.
“It’s nothing but complete snookery,” he said.
Nader was introduced by Spokane attorney Richard Eymann, outgoing president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.
“The children that have not been injured or killed as a direct result of his efforts over the years unquestionably number in the millions,” Eymann said of Nader.