A conservative-backed pro-business organization has filed suit alleging that MLB is a state actor, but it might not be the grand slam home run they expect.
In the conspiracy-tinged rhetorical aftermath of the 2020 election cycle, a Republican Party determined to never allow the public to electorally dismiss them again began to plot their next moves. GOP-led states across the nation introduced measures designed to make voting more difficult for demographics that tend to vote for Democrats. Among other corporate protests, Major League Baseball (MLB) registered its disapproval of the voter suppression law in Georgia by moving its upcoming All-Star Game out of Atlanta, and now an organization led by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus is filing suit against them. Among other mockworthy claims in the suit is the assertion that MLB is a state actor.
According to the suit, MLB is a state actor “acting under color of law as recipients of substantial state and local financing and as tenants of stadiums owned by state and local authorities.” If this is found to be true, it would bring all kinds of other statutes into play. For example, the suit asserts that taking public monies “ties the MLB clubs to constitutional requirements like the Equal Protection Clause… as it does for other sufficiently involved public tenants.” This is the meat of the argument put forth by Job Creators Network (JCN), the conservative-backed advocacy organization filing the lawsuit. By relocating the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in protest of the new voter law, the argument goes, MLB has conspired with the players’ union to deprive local businesses (and Georgians generally) of $100 million in revenue as punishment for asserting their civil rights.
If any area businesses had already contracted with MLB to provide game-related goods or services, they might have a valid claim to damages, but it’s difficult to believe that JCN has any standing whatsoever, considering that no individual businesses have stepped forward to join the suit and the potentially lost business and tax revenue is so hard to precisely calculate.
Observers expect the suit, filed by a member of former President Trump’s failed 2020 election-challenging team, to go absolutely nowhere. However, if it succeeds, the idea that MLB is a state actor based upon the acceptance of massive piles of taxpayer funds could make the legal and business spheres far more interesting.
Consider all the other companies that have ever been seduced by tax abatements, subsidies, land seized via eminent domain, and other publicly funded benefits to settle in a community. In 2018, Amazon famously launched a “contest” to see which cities would offer them the sweetest package deal to locate a second headquarters there. Amazon ended up splitting its decision between a few locations that offered billions in subsidies to a company that was, even before the pandemic, valued over $1 trillion. If communities are willing to fleece their taxpayers to subsidize jobs for a company as big as Amazon, perhaps Amazon ought to be considered a state actor as well, with all the special regulations that entails.
According to the libertarian magazine Reason, corporate welfare flows to a plethora of projects, like sports stadiums, car manufacturers, and corporate megafarms, state-funded “investments” that often do not return anything like the value the municipalities expected. If MLB is a state actor for accepting our public cash, than so are Foxconn, General Motors, Boeing, and countless other ventures. It’s unusual for pro-business conservatives to argue in favor of “bigger government” so explicitly, but if they want to regulate subsidized businesses like state actors or even start down a road towards nationalizing these companies, perhaps that’s a pitch we should consider.