U.S. Soccer election: On Carter, conspiracies and conflicts of interest

By announcing her plans to start an independent commission chaired by mega-agent Casey Wasserman, did USSF presidential candidate Kathy Carter force a lot of people into a conflict of interest? And can Wasserman’s company force voters to back Carter?

My research tells me the answers are “yes” and “no.” Here’s why …

Let’s start with the conspiracy theory first. Could anyone force voters to do their bidding? The USSF bylaws say no.

First of all, it’s a secret ballot.

secret

A good question came up yesterday — could a group such as the Athletes’ Council form a bloc and hand over all its votes to be cast by one person? If so, that would mean an outside actor could twist arms to hand all their voting keypads to the most trusted loyalist on the Council.

But the good news is that, as I’m reading the bylaws and from my understanding of reading all those past AGM transcripts, you can’t do that. This is from the lengthy Bylaw 302: Composition and Voting:

proxy

So unless there’s some quirk in the Bylaws I haven’t found, there’s simply no way to enforce any threats. A voter can say, “Oh, why, yes, I’ll vote for Kathy Carter,” then turn around and vote for Pat Buchanan.

(OK, no, not Pat Buchanan. The candidate has to be on the ballot, having gone through the declaration period and background check. Just thought I’d throw some Election 2000 humor into the mix.)

(UPDATE: See below. The “proxy” bylaw I’ve cited here may not apply to the Athletes’ Council.)

So let’s get back to the first question: Are some voters facing unfortunate conflicts of interest, given Carter’s call for Wasserman to step in and solve everything?

We need a quick disclaimer first. The existence of a conflict of interest does not mean that a person is corrupt. A conflict of interest is simply something that needs to be disclosed. For reasons having nothing to do with sports, I have to file all sorts of things having to do with my investments. In some cases, people involved must recuse themselves — see all votes relating to pro league standards and Soccer United Marketing in which Don Garber, Sunil Gulati and any athlete working in MLS step away.  Conflicts of interests may actually prove useful in some cases — say, if you want to avoid jury duty.

And we should remember that people often vote against their own alleged self-interests. Just look at all the blue-staters who benefit from race and class privilege but have no interest in voting for Mitt Romney, much less Donald Trump. Or consider former MLSNet columnist Eric Wynalda.

Given all that, I think the Twitterati should avoid pro-actively abusing all the Wasserman clients on the Athletes’ Council. I’m mentioning names here only to show my work as I count numbers. (I’m also open to some crowd-sourcing … nah, you all never help me.)

No one here asked to be put into an awkward situation. The person who put them in that situation is Kathy Carter. I’ve reached out to her campaign for comment.

My current count, based on the most recent info I could find, is:

4 Wasserman (Richard Motzkin, Dan Levy) clients: Brian Ching (at some point in the past; not sure about present), Lauren Holiday (as of 2015), John O’Brien, Heather O’Reilly (as of 2015)

6 clients of other agents: Carlos Bocanegra (Lyle Yorks/James Grant Sports Group), Brad Guzan (also Yorks), Will John (JCN Sports Management), Jonathan Spector (SK Soccer Tours), Shannon Boxx (Josh Schwartz/Evolution, as of 2015), Christie Pearce (Carie Goldberg/Gold Standard Sports, verified current)

1 client of nobody: Chris Ahrens (verified current)

9 unknown: Stuart Holden, Angela Hucles, Lori Lindsey, Kate Markgraf, Leslie Osborne, Nick Perera, Gavin Sibayan, Lindsay Tarpley, Aly Wagner

Now bear in mind there are two people who probably won’t be in Orlando for the election. Heather O’Reilly plays for Arsenal and has a home game against Yeovil Town on Sunday. (Yes, I know they played two days ago, and HAO played the full 90, but that was the FA Cup — Sunday’s game is a league game.) Also, Leslie Osborne is a little tied up right now.

(Maybe USSF could consider a bylaw to allow new moms to vote by proxy.)

And it’s probably safe to say that even if Wasserman was truly an evil genius and had figured out a way to force people to do Carter’s bidding, he’s not exactly going to threaten Lauren Holiday’s financial future.

The MLS-affiliated people may be facing some lobbying efforts, of course. That said, it’s not as if Kyle Martino and Eric Wynalda need an introduction to them.

So I’ll say again — any vitriol directed at these people is misguided. They don’t owe a bunch of Twitter tough guys an explanation of how they’re spending their time the week of the election. They’re human beings who have volunteered for a position of responsibility in which they have to weigh different factors and make decisions.

There’s also no evidence to suggest Wasserman and his company are making threats. For one thing, I’m guessing they understand the voting process, so they know any such threats would be empty. For another thing, they’re people who have built up a lot of goodwill in the sport. Wasserman led the bid for Los Angeles to land the Olympics and is in charge of the organizing committee. His top two soccer agents, Richard Motzkin and Dan Levy, were in the business long before they joined up with Wasserman, and their reputations are terrific. (Yes, I’ve corresponded with each of them many times over the years.)

So, once again, we’re left with one person who should be answering questions right now. And that’s Kathy Carter.

UPDATE: This “abstract” posted recently at U.S. Soccer’s site implies that the Athletes’ Council could in fact hand all its votes to one person:

ac-agm-one

The part that isn’t clear to me: Are they talking about literally handing all the keypads to one person? Or are they talking about the fact that the 20 members of the Athletes’ Council are not required to go to the meeting. Typically, they have single-digit representation, with each vote heavily weighted. This year, we’re expecting 10-15 people to go. (See above to see why it’ll be no more than 18.)

Theoretically, the Athletes’ Council could just have one representative in the room, and that person would cast every Athlete vote by default.

I don’t see any record of that happening in past meetings, where the Credentials Committee report usually mentions how many Athlete reps are present. (In 2017, it was six.)

From a practical point of view, I can tell you this:

  1. There is a push within the Athletes’ Council to have more members attending this year.
  2. There may be people pushing the Council to vote as a bloc, but there are also people who have made it clear they’re not going to pushed around.

And here’s another word on keypads:

 

 

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