As baseball spirals toward a possible strike this season, the fate of America’s pastime is in the hands of a car salesman. If that’s not troubling enough, critics say commissioner Bud Selig has tremendous conflicts of interest because he’s still the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Does he represent baseball’s players and fans, or just his fellow owners? Or just his fellow small-market owners?
Selig denies accusations of conflict of interest. But records show that, in his other life as a corporate board member, even when he does have a conflict of interest, he’s forgiven for it. Corporate America is buzzing about impending new, stiffer standards from the New York Stock Exchange regarding the independence of board members, but Selig didn’t even measure up to the old standards.
In the past seven years as a member of the board of directors of the Marcus Corporation, Selig has raked in $2,863,000 from the company, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records. Marcus made the payments to Selig Executive Leasing Company, of which the baseball commissioner is president, CEO, and sole shareholder. And this is while Selig has served alternately on the Milwaukee-based hotel and restaurant company’s audit and executive-pay committees.
Typical of the corporate hubris that plunged the U.S. economy into its current state, Marcus (which runs a host of theaters, restaurants, and hotels including the Baymont chain) blithely admitted Selig’s personal haul and said it was no problem.
Noting in one of its SEC filings last fall that Selig’s leasing firm received $538,000 from Marcus during the 2001 fiscal year alone, the company’s “audit committee report” went on to say: “Because of this relationship, Mr. Selig is not considered an ‘independent’ director under the listing standards of the New York Stock Exchange. The Board of Directors considered this relationship, including the fact that this relationship is relatively minor to the Company, Mr. Selig, and Selig Executive Leasing Co. Inc. and concluded that this relationship will not interfere with Mr. Selig’s exercise of independent judgment for purposes of the New York Stock Exchange’s audit committee independence requirements.” The company found that, “based on its business judgment, it is in the best interests of the Company and its stockholders for Mr. Selig to serve as a member of the Audit Committee.”
Selig’s the only Marcus director with such an interconnection. The company’s business judgment, of course, is directed by its chairman, Stephen Marcus, who was a frat brother of Selig’s at the University of Wisconsin. Each of them returned to Milwaukee and worked in their fathers’ businesses and inherited them—Marcus in the hospitality industry and Selig peddling Fords and Chevys. Now in their sixties, they’re living la vida loca, as much as you can in Milwaukee.
Their business relationship is a two-way street. When Selig became baseball commissioner a few years ago, he fended off accusations of a conflict by putting his daughter in charge of the Brewers and placing his controlling interest in the Brewers in what was described as a blind trust controlled by three people. One of those, of course, is Steve Marcus.
In 1995, Steve’s company appointed Selig to its board. That year, Marcus paid Selig’s solely owned car-leasing company $290,000; in ’96, Marcus paid $358,000; and in subsequent years, $351,000, $382,000, $467,000, $477,000, and, last year, the aforementioned $538,000.
If there is a strike, Selig could always go spend some of that loot at the Marcus Corporation’s sprawling hotel in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, once the famous Playboy resort.