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The owners of the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team have made a $100,000 donation to the “No on Recall” campaign of Gov. Gray Davis, just as a bill that would involve taxpayers in financing a new arena for the NBA franchise has reached the governor’s desk.

According to KCRA-TV in Sacramento, Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof made the donation last week in what critics call a blatant quid pro quo for support of Assembly Bill 944. The bill would allow the Maloofs to build a new downtown arena along the Sacramento city rail yard with taxpayer money but with no public vote, KCRA reported.

While Davis has yet to sign the bill, the payment “certainly gives the appearance of a pay-for-play, that a campaign contribution is directly tied to pending legislation on the governor’s desk,” Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association spokesman John Coupal told the TV news channel.

“Follow the money. Follow the money,” he said.

“We all know that Gray Davis is the coin-operated governor, willing to do whatever his campaign contributors will pay him to do,” adds an e-mail alert from the Republican Liberty Caucus, or RLC, a group that supports “pro-liberty” Republicans for elected office. “This is part of the reason that the recall is occurring … it has become obvious that Davis has not learned his lesson.”

A spokesman in Davis’ office told WorldNetDaily no action had been taken on AB 944 yet, nor was any scheduled – a development that could change, he added.

The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, at the request of Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and other city and business officials, the Sacramento Bee reported.

According to the paper, the legislation gives businesses the choice of whether to assess themselves fees to finance improvements.

“It will give the city the ability to voluntarily ask business owners to participate in the redevelopment of important portions of their city,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg described the bill as one “tool” for local governments to use to contribute to a city’s improvement.

But opponents say it violates the spirit of Proposition 218, which limits local governments from raising taxes, fees and assessments without voter approval. Though businesses initially would fund a bond to build the arena, taxpayers could be stuck with the bill if they defaulted.

“If for some reason this funding mechanism fails, it seems to me to become a general obligation of the city of Sacramento,” Assembly Republican leader Dave Cox of Fair Oaks told the Bee.

A spokesman for Davis’ recall election called “ridiculous” critics’ charges the Maloofs’ donation was a political payment, KCRA reported. Also, a spokesman for Fargo’s office said the city had nothing to do with the donation.

“You have to ask the Maloofs why they donated the money. This has no relation to the city at all. I don’t know anything about why they did it,” said Fargo chief of staff Chuck Dalldorf.

But then, opponents countered, what else would Davis and bill supporters say?

The denial “is no surprise,” said the RLC.

Fargo and other city officials said AB 944 is just one way the Kings’ arena could be built, and that other funding sources would likely have to be found as well, the Bee reported.

Estimates put the cost of the arena at between $300 million and $500 million.

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