In a sworn statement to the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the head of a Philadelphia-based sports-and-entertainment conglomerate denies that his $10,000 contribution to the Connecticut Democratic Party last year was “pay-to-play” meant to protect his company’s business with the state.
Edward M. Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, said his $10,000 check – a potential violation of a ban on state contractor contributions — was solicited by an unnamed acquaintance supporting education reform in a local election last year and had nothing to do with state contracts held by his company’s subsidiaries.
“I know I had no intent whatsoever to engage in any pay-to-play activity at any time,” Snider said in an affidavit.
Snider, founder and principal owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, an NHL franchise that is now just one of Comcast-Spectacor’s many sports-related ventures and holdings, made the sworn statement as part of a defense against a complaint from a surprising source: It was filed by Snider.
The complaint is Snider’s way of trying to ensure there is no legal cloud over the ability of the subsidiaries to do business with the state. One of them, Global Spectrum, finalized a 10-year deal on July 1 to manage two state-owned venues, the XL Center in Hartford and Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
Two other subsidiaries, Patron Solutions and Ovations Food Services, subcontract with Global to provide ticketing and concession services at the facilities. Yet another related entity, Paciolan, a provider of ticketing and donor management software, has a contract with the University of Connecticut’s athletic department.
“Making a self-report is the most efficient way to present the issues to the SEEC and obtain clarification about the ongoing ability of Comcast-Spectacor subsidiaries to contract with Connecticut state agencies,” said Philip I. Weinberg, the company’s vice president and general counsel.
A one-year ban on additional state business is a potential penalty for a “principal” official or employee making a prohibited contribution.
Snider’s affidavit is his first public comment on a $10,000 contribution that became a point of controversy last year. It illustrates the legal and business complications facing executives who choose to make political contributions in Connecticut, which has some of the nation’s tightest campaign finance laws.
The self-reported complaint was one of three recently accepted by the commission, all in relation to campaign contributions that donors fear could run afoul of the sweeping ban on contributions from contractors enacted in 2005 in response to the scandal that toppled Gov. John G. Rowland.
Pitney Bowes filed a self-report meant to ensure that a new executive’s $50 online contribution to Tom Foley, a Republican candidate for governor, doesn’t jeopardize business with the state that has been worth between $2.2 million and $5.5 million annually in recent years.
Roger Pilc, the executive vice president who made the donation, is new to the state and was unaware that his title makes him a principal official covered by the ban, Brendan Fox, a lawyer representing Pitney Bowes, said in a letter to the commission.
Antinozzi Associates, an architecture and interior design firm in Bridgeport with a state contract, self-reported contributions made to local town committees. Such contributions also are covered by the ban because town committees can donate to the state party or state campaigns.
State law places the burden for knowing the law on the donors, not the campaigns or political committees that are the recipients.
Donors are required to fill out a card attesting they are not covered by the state contractor ban. Without such a card, a campaign or political party should not deposit a contribution. With it, a campaign has no legal liability if a donation is later determined to be from a prohibited source.
In the case of Snider, the Democratic Party refunded his contribution in December after the media noted that Global Spectrum had a state contract to manage the XL Center and Rentschler.
Snider says he remains unsure if he is covered by the contractor ban, as Comcast-Spectator has no direct relationship with any state entity, and the corporate structure tying the parent to the subsidiaries is complex. He says he owns a 24 percent interest in Comcast-Spectacor, which has a 95 percent interest in a holding company, which in turn has a 98 percent interest in Global Spectrum.
“I come before the Commission both because I am now unsure if my indirect ownership interests in the state contractors and state subcontractors described above makes me a principal of those entities, and because I know I had no intent whatsoever to engage in any pay-to-play activities at any time,” Snider said in his affidavit.
Snider made his contribution on Aug. 23, less than two months after Global Spectrum finalized the management contract with the quasi-public authority that oversees the two venues, the Capital Region Development Authority. They had been identified months earlier, however, as the authority’s choice.
But Snider said the timing was related to a solicitation from “a long-time acquaintance who was then a local official and not in position to influence the award of state contracts.” The money, he said, was intended to support the acquaintance’s “advocacy of local education reform” in connection with a municipal election last fall.
Snider did not identify the official or the race, nor would his general counsel, Weinberg.
“We do not feel that it is appropriate to identify either the specific election or the former official, as neither of these facts are in any way relevant to the inquiry before the SEEC,” Weinberg told The Mirror.
The Bridgeport school board election was the only municipal race last year in which the state Democratic Party was a significant player: It spent $18,000 on direct assistance to three Democratic incumbents facing a primary and gave $20,000 to the city’s Democratic Town Committee.
Snider says he gave to the state party because it could accept a maximum contribution of $10,000, while the limit for the local party was $2,000.
His check was written to the party’s state account, money available to be spent directly on state or local races. Had Snider written the check to the party’s federal account, it would have been exempt from the state law banning contractor contributions.
The Comcast Political Action Committee also contributed $5,000 to the party’s federal account last year. Snider and Comcast are only part of a Philadelphia contingent that were generous to Connecticut Democrats in 2013.
The political action committee of Cozen O’Connor, a Philadelphia law and public affairs firm, contributed $10,000 in October. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Cozen O’Connor did lobbying work for a group that tried to establish a Foxwoods Casino in Philadelphia. Its main backers were charitable trusts for the families of Snider and Lewis Katz, who contributed $10,000 to the Connecticut party’s state account in September.
Weinberg said Snider did not solicit anyone to give to Connecticut Democrats.