World Wrestling Entertainment, the billion-dollar corporation effectively bankrolling and sponsoring the Senate candidacy of its co-founder and former CEO Linda McMahon, is now being audited by the state of Connecticut for possible misclassification of employees as independent contractors.
Company PR guy Robert Zimmerman told Brian Lockhart of Hearst newspapers: “WWE has always complied with the law. Up until this election, WWE has not been fined or investigated in the past for independent contractor classification. However, curiously the state of Connecticut is currently conducting an audit of WWE’s classification of independent contractors. WWE constantly reviews its internal practices and procedures to comply with ever-changing employee laws.”
This statement by the corporate spokesman foreshadows the more aggressive line we can expect to be hearing, either out loud or sotto voce, from the McMahon campaign. It goes like this: McMahon’s opponent in the Senate race, attorney general Richard Blumenthal, is abusing his office for partisan purposes.
I have no information on whether Blumenthal is behind the substance or the timing of the state investigation. I would not be shocked to learn that he is, in some form. But if so, there is still a key difference between this and J. Edgar Hoover-like spying or extraordinarily invasive review and harassment of personal tax returns. What is happening now is called statecraft: where politics and government appropriately, and usefully, intersect.
WWE’s “independent” contracts have been a source of controversy for years. A lawsuit challenging misclassification by a group of WWE wrestlers (including Christopher “Chris Kanyon” Klutsarits, who committed suicide this spring) was mooted on technical grounds – because of statute of limitations issues and because the named plaintiffs no longer worked for the company.
In truth, the Connecticut audit was a long time coming, and was probably delayed only because officials were reticent to challenge a powerful home-state corporation. If it was the McMahon family’s reach for elective office that finally eroded that reticence, then so be it.
Partisan? The Misclassification Commission, whose 2008 report on independent contractor abuse spurred the type of audit we’re seeing with WWE, was the joint work product of a Republican governor, Jodi Rell, and the state legislature. The same bipartisan forces, I might add, that rubber-stamped Linda McMahon’s appointment to the state Board of Education in January 2009 even after it was revealed that she had lied on her resume about her academic credentials.
McMahon’s cries of dirty campaigning by Blumenthal would be laughable, considering that she has all but denuded the Amazonian forest with slick mass mailings that smear Blumenthal in ridiculous proportion over his “in-vs.-during” Vietnam misstatements.
Finally – Prospective Blumenthal supporters who have expressed frustration over his heretofore passive campaign are going to have to consider whether it is through developments such as this one that the would-be Democratic senator might be finding his voice. Letting surrogates attack WWE deaths and programming while he concentrates on things he knows best, such as the law? I That may work for him. And I, personally, don’t have a problem with it – even though I realize that the Connecticut media would prefer to educate the electorate through lowbrow YouTube clips and corny smackdown metaphors.