By Mike Steffanos
More congressional grandstanding over the naming rights contract:
Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Ted Poe sent a letter to new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday, urging the government to demand that the company drop its $400 million, 20-year agreement for naming rights to the New York Mets' ballpark. The stadium opens in April.
"At Citigroup, 50,000 people will lose their jobs. Yet in the boardroom of Citigroup, spending $400 million to put a name on stadium seems like a good idea," said Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat. "The Treasury Department, which forced Citigroup corporate executives to give up their private jet, should also demand that Citigroup cancel its $400 million advertisement at the Mets field and instead begin to repay their debt to the taxpayers."
Citigroup reached its agreement with the Mets three years ago. It is among several American banks that have received financial assistance from the federal government in recent months.
"Citigroup claimed it was on the brink of financial disaster, then demanded and took $45 billion from the taxpayers through government giveaways," said Poe, a Texas Republican. "While average Americans are hunkering down worried about their jobs, food, clothes, and mortgage payments, these irresponsible executives are blowing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars."
This whole naming rights thing won't go away. What is sad is that I have to believe that both of these congressmen really do understand that the Treasury Department can't simply demand that Citigroup cancel its deal with the Mets.
Although they cleverly describe it as a "$400 million advertisement at the Mets field", they're talking about a legal and binding contract that Citigroup signed with the Mets before all of this happened.
In the summer of 2005, I got really, really sick, to the point where I was unable to do nearly enough of what I needed to do to make a living. As I was one of countless Americans living on the edge without health insurance, my medical bills mounted while my personal obligations refused to go away.
All of the debt I fell into was a contract between me and various institutions I did business with. Funny thing, but there were no grandstanders demanding that I be let out of those contracts. I was stuck with them.
If Citigroup tried to unilaterally back out of this deal, it would cost them millions of dollars in litigation. Mr. Poe and Mr. Kucinich understand that, but they don't let the facts get in the way of a political ploy.
I also find it interesting that whenever this deal is criticized by someone looking to make political capitol out of it, it's always spoken of as if the $400 million is payable all at once and it is all coming out of the bailout money.
The truth, as most of you already know, is that the money is payable over 20 years. $20 million doesn't make for as much pseudo-populist jingoism as $400 million, I guess.
I've said before on this subject that the Mets should rework the deal with Citigroup if at all possible to backend more of the money. Then they might get some positive public relations from this mess instead of this contrived garbage that the franchise is complicit in stealing money from taxpayers. If it is possible at all to do this, they should, because this won't go away as long as there is a single politician or television pundit that is willing to milk it for all it's worth. I don't know, maybe they're desperate for this year's payment after the Bernie Madoff affair.
Whatever the Mets do -- and history tells us they're always ready to fall into another p.r. misstep -- someone should call these dishonest politicians on this pointless grandstanding and twisting of facts. I remember at the end of the movie The American President when Michael Douglass' character gives a somewhat corny speech that includes telling his arch-enemy, "This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up." I often think of those words when I see idiots like these two congressmen muddying up an issue for 15 minutes of attention from the media.