Thursday, September 24, 2015

UA links skyboxes. Trustee John Goodson, with a candidate wife, figures in the decision.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 10:17 AM

click to enlarge THERE'S GOLD IN THOSE SEATS: Skybox seats don't come cheap, but they are valuable for business and politics. - UA
  • UA
  • THERE'S GOLD IN THOSE SEATS: Skybox seats don't come cheap, but they are valuable for business and politics.

BUILDING AND GROUNDS: John Goodson was consulted on skybox change.
  • BUILDING AND GROUNDS: John Goodson was consulted on skybox change.
Here's what the University of Arkansas's own website says about luxury suites, familiarly known as skyboxes, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

Make a lasting impression on your guests with an upscale, private luxury suite. You choose your entertainment - sports, concerts or family shows - and select an all inclusive food and beverage package. With first class amenities, including an in -suite catering service, high end furnishing and access to exclusive arena clubs, you and your guests are sure to have an affordable VIP experience each and every time. Luxury Suites are the best value for your investment either for a corporate meeting or for a party!

I mentioned yesterday that I'd have more coming on skyboxes. I reported then  an item that gives you some idea of how much the UA values the seating. They provided lists of names of people invited to the first two Razorback games this year in the roughly 20-seat skybox that belongs to the UA System and the roughly 100-seat box under the control of the chancellor of the Fayetteville campus.

The university erased the names of 14 people at the Texas Tech game, invited on "campaign weekend," part of a fund-raising drive for the university. They cited what I believe to be a bogus exemption under the state Freedom of Information Act, an exemption for records that would cause a competitive disadvantage if released. This exemption was written to protect the documents of companies being recruited by the state Economic Development agency, not to protect records of a public institution. The university claims if it reveals the names of people it's cultivating for contributions, somebody else might glom onto them, too.

Anyway. Why the interest in skyboxes? Another intersection of business and politics.

click to enlarge MARITAL BENEFIT: Spouse allows her to get ticket into skybox at campaign time.
  • MARITAL BENEFIT: Spouse allows her to get ticket into skybox at campaign time.
I got a tip recently that the UA had recently spent a significant sum to open a door between the two skyboxes. I was told further that the work was instigated by UA Trustee John Goodson, the wealthy lawyer whose wife Courtney Goodson is seeking to move from an associate justice seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court to chief justice. Goodson, otherwise relegated to the smaller system box, wanted access for easier hobnobbing with the swells in the chancellor's box. After all, someone with the bucks to give to the university might have some spare change for a political candidate. Indeed, the Goodsons were in the skyboxes for the first two games and her campaign organization worked the tailgate crowd those days.

Responses from the UA were interesting. Campus spokesman Laura Jacobs said no documents existed on the decision to open a doorway closed since, she estimated, 1998. (Eventually, she did find a work order.) But she gave this explanation:

The chancellor’s sky box at Razorback stadium used to be one large box. At some point during the last stadium renovation, around 1998 or so, a wall was added to create two boxes. The addition of a door between the two was made at [UA System President] Don Bobbitt’s request. It was done to foster interaction between guests in the two suites as well as to reduce costs. In the past, the UA System and the chancellor’s offices each contracted for food for their guests and there always was some leftover. It was felt that a single serving line would be more efficient leading to less waste.

The work cost $6,411.73 and was done by the campus "facilities management team."

Donald Bobbitt is a busy man. He really has time to worry about the catering bill at a handful of football games?

I put a question to his office and again asked  about Goodson's involvement. A system spokesman said:

Dr. Bobbitt spoke with several people about his idea to connect the boxes, including Trustee Goodson, who is chairman of the Buildings and Grounds committee. The UA System receives tickets from UA annually and Board of Trustee members are given two tickets to the President’s or Chancellor’s box for each game. Dr. Bobbitt said the idea has been on his mind for a while, and it’s much more than the issue of cost savings on food. It’s also an issue of connectivity between the boxes and providing a more inclusive experience among Trustees, UA System and UA staff and guests. 

According to the redacted guest lists I received, Goodson had System tickets for the first game and chancellor's box tickets for the Texas Tech game, when the secret big money people were in attendance.  He has not responded to my e-mails asking about the skybox matter.

In case you wondered: The UA places the value of a skybox ticket at $350. They are actually worth much more in the private skyboxes, where significant contributions to the Razorback Foundation are required. The University, which employs lobbyists, may not legally give Razorback tickets to elected officials. Nor could a public official accept a gift worth more than $100 from anyone — except from a close relative such as a spouse. So Goodson's bringing his campaigning wife into the skyboxes  is likely legal under ethics law. Is it a good idea in terms of appearances, since other candidates without wedding rings can't gain the same access? Not that this compares to $50,000 free yacht vacations to Italy and a wealth of expensive gifts from a boyfriend such as Goodson has reported in the past.

Here's the list of people invited to the two skyboxes in the first two games.
Here's an explanation for the coding you'll see in the guest lists.

On the “Arkansas vs Texas Tech (Campaign Weekend)” list, there are names redacted, pursuant to Ark. Code Ann § 25-19-105(b)(9)(A) competitive advantage. I have also redacted computer access ID numbers, pursuant to Ark. Code Ann § 25-19-105(b)(11). The redactions are apparent. The affiliation key follows: CSC = Campaign Steering Committee; CAPC = Chancellors Administrative Policy Committee; EOY=Employee of the Year; DEF = Dan Ferritor (but you probably guessed that); AVC = Associate Vice Chancellor. This list shows guests invited by UA-F.

On the “2015 President’s Skybox” list, the names crossed out were invited but did not attend. This list shows guests invited by UofA System.

The athletic director has a box, too. Smaller. And no redactions from his guest list.
Back to politics. Courtney Goodson remains unopposed for the chief justice seat. Opponents are looking feverishly to find a contender. And inquiries continue into the influence of Goodson and other class action lawyers such as himself. (He's also become a Washington lobbyist, too.)

I heard this week of an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette inquiry into the amount of money given by out-of-state class action lawyers in Supreme Court races. It can constitute a hefty percentage, because some judges — primed with early money — have been able to avoid election contests. As I've reported before, Goodson and friends in that line of legal work contributed heavily to campaign debts of Justices Karen Baker and Jo Hart. Goodson and similar lawyers contributed $20,000 of the $49,000 Baker raised. She was unopposed. Goodson and out-of-state law firms dropped $22,000 or so on Hart after her successful race, almost enough single-handedly to clear her loan to her campaign. A bigger source of speculation is the dark money used to beat Tim Cullen in his race against eventual winner Justice Robin Wynne. Justice Rhonda Wood got a bundle of at least $17,000 from some of the same class action lawyers, mainly from Texas and Pennsylvania, who supported the others.

The influence of the out-of-state lawyers pales to the combined influence of Goodson and Michael Morton, the nursing home mogul. Morton single-handedly tops the out-of-state lawyer contributions to judges, from circuit judge ujp. He alone gave almost $50,000 alone to Rhonda Wood, elected without opposition. That was about half the money she reported in her initial fund-raising. 

In short, it helps to make friends with people with deep pockets. Courtney Goodson is singularly eligible to do so  in a now-expanded venue in Fayetteville where big bank accounts and political influence are generally required for admittance. If the Hogs don't start winning, the value might decline sharply, however.

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