Simmons' New "Investment"
According to the Southern:
Not to be overlooked in the deal is requested financial assistance from the state. When Marion officials learned the state might not come through with $7.5 million in requested funds to build the stadium, [Marion Mayor Bob] Butler stepped forward with his tax increase proposal. Gov. Rod Blagojevich then announced last week that $3 million had been budgeted for the baseball project pending approval from the Legislature.
The City of Marion is either close to approving - or has approved - a sales tax increase to generate almost a half million a year for debt repayment on the $15 million construction loan. The General Assembly will consider the Governor's request for $3 million in state money.
Simmons, who will own the stadium, said the total cost of the project is $25 million, which includes the construction of the stadium and purchase of the land and new team.
"That's $10 million out of my pocket alone," he said.
Loyal ICJL.com readers will remember that John Simmons was investing in another Southern Illinois project last fall: Democratic Supreme Court candidate Gordon Maag. SimmonsCooper, the East Alton firm ran by Simmons and former Congressional candidate Jeffrey Cooper, and its partners donated more than $1.1 million to the various entities of the Maag campaign, including $360,000 to the Democratic Party PAC controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan. Another $135,000 was given to Senate President Emil Jones PAC just three days after Election Day.
Now Simmons, who has almost unlimited riches from his winnings in the Madison County legal system, is looking to the state leaders in the Democratic Party to help him out.
Simmons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"I want to avoid the appearance of impropriety.... But the fact is, I'm a Democrat, I support Democrats."
[The Governor's Spokesperson Rebecca] Rausch said Simmons' political contributions to the governor and his party were unrelated to the administration's plans to help fund the stadium that Simmons will own. "We'd be just as happy to see the city of Marion own it," Rausch said.
If that's truly the case - and Marion taxpayers and state taxpayers are footing a majority of the bill - why not work that into the deal? Marion city officials say that they don't want the maintenance. But, couldn't the maintenance contract for the stadium be worked in with the lease?
Other Illinois legislators are questioning the ethical implications of such a large donor recieving a $3 million state grant, when the Illinois budget is already stretched very thin:
"It certainly smells fishy," said state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Highland. "This is a governor who talks about reform in government and reform in ethics, and we just keep seeing shadow after shadow cast across this administration. ... and this is another example of it."
Madison County Record's Dicta column speculates that Simmons' Marion investment might be the first step of outreach in a possible Congressional run against John Shimkus. Whether that's the case or not will remain to be seen. But, it's interesting to see that lawyers are now choosing baseball over judges for their investment strategies.
"I believe it's a good deal for Marion," Simmons said. "Are they helping me make money? Yeah. But I could make more putting my money somewhere else. But that wouldn't be as fun."