Hands Off Nats

Posted June 28, 2005 at 4:20pm

Didn’t House Republicans learn anything from the infamous “K Street Project”? That effort to intimidate trade associations and lobbying firms into firing Democrats and hiring Republicans blossomed into a scandal. Now, some GOP Members want to put the squeeze on Major League Baseball to prevent Democratic fat cat George Soros from owning the Washington Nationals.

We’re neither for nor against Soros as an owner, or as anything, for that matter. We just want Major League Baseball, which currently owns the team, to choose the best possible new ownership group, based not just on the highest price offered at auction, but also on the quality of a bidder’s management team and its dedication to making the franchise thrive in Washington. And we certainly prefer local ownership that would be more likely to guarantee the team stays in Washington permanently.

Politics should have nothing to do with the choice, and Congress should stay out of the decision. Yet as Roll Call reported Monday, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) is threatening MLB with reconsideration of its exemption from antitrust laws if it decides to tap Soros and his local partner, entrepreneur Jon Ledecky. Davis cites Soros’ deep-seated opposition to President Bush and his multimillion-dollar contributions to anti-Bush 527 political committees.

Davis, who chairs a Government Reform Committee that has already held hearings on steroid use in baseball and which also oversees District of Columbia affairs, said: “I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes. I don’t think they want to get involved in a political fight.” Which would happen, he said, if a team that includes Soros got the Nats. MLB “could get hurt,” he said. “They enjoy all sorts of exemptions” from anti-trust laws.

Amplifying Davis’ threat, Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the D.C. budget, indicated that Congress might upset the funding scheme for a new Nationals stadium if Soros were the owner. “Let him pay for it,” Sweeney said about Soros and the ballpark. Under the current plan, D.C. is scheduled to float bonds to pay for the park — something Congress could clearly interfere with if it wished. As it happens, we’d also prefer that the new owner build the stadium without any burden on taxpayers — and Soros, a gazillionaire, could certainly afford it.

But if any changes are made in the deal that the District cut with MLB, it shouldn’t be done for political reasons. We trust that MLB won’t be threatened by Davis, or influenced by the GOP connections of a rival ownership group headed by former Nixon White House aide Fred Malek — a close friend of President (and former Texas Rangers owner) Bush and, in a smaller role, former Secretary of State Colin Powell. MLB’s concern should simply be to find owners who will love the team as much as Washington does and can afford to help it keep being the best thing that’s happened to this town in decades.