Money, Politics and Panthers: Charlotte elected leaders receive donations from Panthers brass right before MLS talks

Tepper makes campaign donations before MLS discussions

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Members of the Panthers football operations staff, including owner David Tepper, made campaign contributions to Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and members of the Charlotte City Council weeks before officially asking the city for millions of dollars in tax dollars to renovate Bank of America Stadium, campaign finance records show.

The biggest donation was from Tepper to Lyle’s campaign committee. Tepper made a $5,200 contribution, the maximum allowed at the time it was made. The contribution was made on August 13, 2019, a little more than a month before city council was first briefed in a closed-door session about Tepper’s bid for an MLS team and how that would likely require investment of tax dollars in Bank of America Stadium and various other projects.

A campaign spokesperson for Lyles emailed WBTV a statement saying that Lyles received lots of donations from a variety of organizations.

“These contributions to her campaign are not conflicts of interest but instead speak to the continued confidence in her leadership and ability to use her democratic values to lead without bias,” the campaign spokesperson wrote. “While she does not carry a vote on the Charlotte City Council except in cases where there is a tie, she continues to lead for all of Charlotte, regardless of campaign contributions.”

The campaign committee for Councilman James “Smuggie” Mitchell received a $500 contribution from Panthers President Tom Glick. WBTV previously reported that Mitchell and Glick planned a trip to Detroit together in 2019 to view several stadium projects in the area while the Panthers were playing the Detroit Lions.

Mitchell did not answer WBTV’s questions regarding his trip to Detroit and similarly did not respond to questions about the campaign donations made by Glick.

List of contributions made by Panthers staff in 2019

Owner David Tepper: $5,200 (Lyles) - Aug 13

President Tom Glick: $500 (Mitchell) - Sept 5

General Counsel Stephen Argeris: $250 (Egleston) - Sept 9

President Tom Glick: $250 (Lyles) - May 7

Chief Operating Officer Mark Hart: $250 (Lyles) - April 15

Records show Councilman Larken Egleston received a $250 contribution from Panthers General Counsel Stephen Argeris.

In a response to questions emailed by WBTV, Egleston said the $250 donation from Panthers General Counsel Stephen Argeris would not impact his decision making on deals with the Panthers.

“This was an unsolicited online donation by Mr. Argeris,” Egleston wrote. “The idea that a donation that represents less than one third of one percent of my total fundraising in the last election will determine where I will stand on one of the biggest votes we will take this term is laughable.”

Charlotte elected leaders receive donations from Panthers brass right before MLS talks

During the city council annual retreat, Charlotte Economic Director Tracy Dodson said negotiations with Tepper around the MLS deal are ongoing but that some aspects are moving forward. Dodson said the city will make a zoning petition in January for development of the Eastland Mall site where Tepper wants to place the MLS team’s practice facility.

“We’re in the early stages when it comes to the agreement and it’s not one agreement it’s going to be a series of agreements,” Dodson said.

Dodson told media that negotiations with Tepper will likely include keeping his sports franchises in Charlotte.

In an email a Panthers team spokes person wrote "Members of our organization are actively engaged in the community in a variety of ways, including providing support to candidates for public office.”

Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved.