The Milwaukee Bucks currently play their basketball games in one of the ugliest buildings in America. I haven’t seen it in person, but a quick perusal of Google Images confirms the BMO Harris Bradley Center looks like it was built as an homage to maximum-security prisons.
So the Bucks are getting a new arena, thanks to a deal the state’s legislature recently approved. And Governor Scott Walker has committed to signing it—a move that has the potential to raise questions on the campaign trail, both because of who the deal directly benefits (a major Hillary Clinton donor) and what it costs taxpayers (at least a cool $250 million).
Walker has consistently defended the deal, arguing that it’s a net gain for taxpayers because it will protect revenues that would have been lost had the team left for another state.
“It’s critical not only for those who love sports, but the main reason I got into it was because it protected state revenues,” Walker said, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “That just creates a big hole for everything else...This was really about protecting the taxpayers of the state.” Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for his office, emailed that taxpayers will get $3 in income tax revenue for every dollar the state spends.
But fiscal conservatives loathe the project, and feel it undermines Walker’s cost-cutting, debt-slashing, big-government-special-interest-upstanding-to bona fides. “Government shouldn’t be in the business of financing private sports stadiums,” a former director of the Wisconsin chapter of the Walker-supporting and Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity told Time magazine last month.
Former Heritage Institute economist Ronald Utt told The Daily Beast he found Walker’s support for the taxpayer-funded stadium “bizarre” and out of character for the governor. And Nick Novak, a spokesman for the Madison-based conservative MacIver Institute think tank, which typically supports Walker’s policies, said the deal “probably is not a win for taxpayers,” especially when you factor in interest payments that could balloon the original costs.
“This is going to cost over $400 million in taxpayer investments, and they’re going to see very little of that money coming back to them,” he said.
So there’s some debate as to whether the deal will benefit taxpayers. But there’s little question as to who it will benefit: the Bucks’s two owners, one of whom is an avid Hillary Clinton supporter.
Marc Lasry, a co-owner of the Bucks, is no buddy of Walker’s. Just months after he and another hedge fund billionaire bought the team from former Democratic Senator Herb Kohl, Lasry greeted President Obama at the airport when he arrived in Wisconsin to campaign for the governor’s Democratic challenger in 2014. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Lasry held a $40,000-per-person event at his home for the president a few months before the 2012 election, and his son is “a former White House aide.”
Lasry’s political connections even made Wisconsin’s Republican speaker of the house, Robin Vos, a little worried about the fate of the arena deal.
“It’s a tough sell when you're asking for millions of dollars,” he said last fall.
In the end, the hard sell got sold. With Lasry, his co-owner, and Kohl pledging to pick up the other half of the estimated $500 million tab, the Bucks are just a Scott Walker signature away from a new arena that (maybe) won’t look like a metal turd. But now Lasry’s close relationship with Hillary could spell another round of trouble for Walker. After Clinton announced her presidential bid in April, Lasry, who has been unequivocal in his support for the likely Democratic nominee, told Bloomberg Politics that he was looking raise $270,000 for her campaign in its first week.
Lasry’s firm, Avenue Capital Group, also gave Clinton a round-trip ride in their plane during her 2006 New York Senate reelection campaign for a mere $408, per Bloomberg. And, according to The New York Times, the firm also gave Chelsea Clinton one of her first jobs.
It’s not just in the family. Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary for America’s communications director, crashed at Lasry’s Manhattan pad for a few nights as the Clinton campaign was coming together.
“We have five children, so we are used to having a lot of people around, and we’re happy to put up folks from the campaign,” Lasry told The New York Times.
Given Walker’s current standing in national polls—which thus far has largely evaded the drubbing other conservative candidates have taken from Trumpapalooza—it remains to be seen if Republican primary state voters will get incensed about a massive taxpayer-funded deal from which a Clinton-loving billionaire stands to benefit.
Either way, it’s perhaps important to emphasize how ugly the Bucks current arena truly is. “It looks like the fucking architect realized last minute there were no fucking windows in his original design, so he decided to compensate by fucking gluing a smaller building to it that is only windows,” a Reddit user called UncleStosh said, accurately, in a popular post begging Dwight Howard to play for the team.
“WE COULD LITERALLY PAINT A MURAL TO YOU ON 90% OF THE BUILDING,” UncleStosh continued. “LITERALLY. LOOK AT IT AGAIN. I PROMISE YOU THE OTHER SIDE LOOKS EVEN WORSE.”