SEATTLE — A new KeyArena is likely on the horizon thanks to two well-heeled development groups. But who is behind the scenes? And should a business be tied to the personal whims of its founder?
Q13 News learned that the founder of Anschutz Entertainment Group, or AEG, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to ultra-conservative causes and law firms. Some have been called “extremist hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The way our democracy works right now is that wealthy donors like this one have a megaphone,” said Bruce Speight of the environmental group WAPIRG.
That megaphone of money makes it possible because of donations from the Phillip Anschutz Foundation.
Anschutz is the "A" in AEG. His company is one of the bidders for the redesign for KeyArena that is currently working its way through the City Council. They currently operate the arena on event days.
He's made billions in Colorado and across the country from oil and gas, rail lines, and telecommunications. The MLS Cup is even named in his honor.
We pored through hundreds of pages of tax filings for his billion-dollar private foundation and found organizations that promote anti-transgender research, have defended the Hobby Lobby contraceptives controversy, fought to allow same-sex discrimination in our state in the Richmond florist case and more.
In one video from the Center for Security Policy, a speaker claimed “80 percent of mosques are controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Anschutz’s foundation gave the Center $50,000.
The FamilyLife group has written multiple articles about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, making it clearly known that they do not support that community.
“The practice of homosexuality isn't a preference or an uncontrollable desire—it's actually a stark confirmation of a person's rebellion against the Designer,” read one article by its founders.
In a speech, one of those founders used a quote about homosexuality and other “perversions” that could lead to “the final stage of societal disintegration.”
Despite their innocuous-sounding names, Anschutz's donation recipients Family Research Council, the aforementioned Center for Security Policy, and the Alliance Defending Freedom are considered extremist hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“We try to be very careful in terms of adding groups to the hate list," said Heidi Beirich with the SPLC, which has tracked more than 900 groups preaching hate and violence of all kinds.
She considers their brand of poison to be just as bad as the Ku Klux Klan.
“The things that they`re doing, the way they`re demonizing populations, minority populations, and propagandizing against them is the same and it`s intent is the same, to marginalize, to belittle, to make vulnerable,” Beirich said.
One of those instances by the Center for Security Policy labeled the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, as the Hamas terror organization.
"CAIR is an American-Muslim organization started by three Americans,” countered Seattle’s CAIR leader, Arsalan Bukhari.
He said the dehumanizing language and conspiracy theories have fueled attacks and misinformation against Muslims through heavily-cited websites and those shocking videos.
“We`re talking about manipulating the minds of fellow Americans,” he said.
Bruce Speight with the Washington Public Interest Research group says this is not just about religion and lifestyle -- it's about the very air we breathe
“This donor has invested in dirty energy, fossil fuels. That`s concerning,” he said.
WASHPIRG said Anschutz's work in the oil and gas industries and funding of a group that says the Keystone and Dakota pipeline worries are overblown ---and the wind farms hurt rural America.
But is it fair for AEG to be accountable for their bosses' world views?
“Someone who is an executive in a company and making decisions about the company, the lines can get blurred,” Speight said.
The City Council agrees.
“Together we are building the power of regular people to fight to take our world back from Trump, the billionaires, and the oil lobby,” said Council member Kshama Sawant after a vote earlier this year.
The city recently divested from Wells Fargo specifically over bad business practices and funding of those pipelines -- taking a stand to fight for values of inclusion and the environment.
“Advising all potential vendors, business partners what we require in socially responsible commercial relationships,” said Council member Debora Juarez.
AEG already runs the Key and now the City Council could get even more involved.
Do the same principles apply to divest over one thing but not the other?
The Council has declined to speak with us about the possible conflict, as did Mayor Ed Murray.
The Anschutz Foundation did not respond to calls and also has not provided the most recent tax filing.
In a widely distributed memo from January, Anschutz said any allegations of harboring anti-LGBTQ attitudes is “fake news” and that donations were stopped or returned when he learned of some of the groups’ intentions.
There has been no evidence that those refunds occurred and if the same will happen for other groups with controversial and hateful positions.
AEG noted that despite the funding of green energy skeptics, Anschutz owns the largest wind farm in North America, located in Wyoming.
The company’s local public relations firm is operated by Roger Nyhaus, who wanted to speak out to defend Anschuz, saying he did his own research after some of the anti-LGBTQ issues surfaced.
“I have been a gay activist for 20 years of my professional life and I have not met a client that has taken my counsel as eagerly and enthusiastically as AEG,” Nyhaus said.
So what about Oakview, AEG’s competitor in the arena bidding?
In a twist, that company’s CEO, Tim Leiweke, was actually in charge of AEG with the foundation donations were made.
No comment from Oakview about the role Leiweke may have played in the donations or how much he knew whom the foundation was working with.
Billions of dollars can speak volumes, both for city coffers, and for hearts and minds.
"I don`t think everybody involved in these organizations really knows the nuts and bolts of what their founders have said,” Heidi Beirich with the SPLC said.
She also noted that extremist hate groups can be removed from the list alongside the KKK and others.
They simply have to prove that their discrimination and hate has stopped.
“Extremist hate” group donations, per IRS 990 forms:
-Center for Security Policy: $50,000
-Family Research Council: $10,000
-Alliance Defending Freedom: $135,000