Courage Cup: Ponying Up For Whose Charity?

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The genteel sport of polo showed its rough-and-tumble side earlier this year when two factions of young social mavens started scrapping -- in angry blasts of e-mails and heated conferences with lawyers -- for control of a fledgling Northern Virginia charity match.

On one side: Greg Ball, the former Air Force officer who founded the Courage Cup in 2004 while living in D.C. On the other: two Washington women whom Ball handed the event off to last year -- temporarily, he says -- when he moved home to enter politics in Upstate New York.

But why did Ball, 29, now a busy freshman state assemblyman, even want to keep running a youthful charity party several hours from his home district? Perhaps because it helped him win his seat.

The Reliable Source found that a New York political action committee started by Ball -- which later transferred its entire treasury to his campaign -- netted as much as $10,000 by selling tickets to the 2005 Courage Cup. That's four times the amount the polo match raised that year for its prominently advertised beneficiary, Work to Ride, a Philadelphia charity that teaches poor kids to play polo.

It's unclear whether anything about the arrangement was improper. But it shocked several D.C. area Courage Cup ticket buyers, who said they had never heard of the group and were stunned to find their names in Ball's campaign finance records.

"I thought the money was going to kids," said Andrew McKenna."I'd be pretty [infuriated] if I found out this was for a political race."

Ball insists there was nothing irregular about the involvement of the PAC, Citizens United for Ethical Growth, in the charity event. He said he had nothing to do with the group's fundraising efforts at the polo match he organized, and that patrons of the event's Golden Mallet Tent were informed their money was going to the PAC by a disclaimer on a ticketing Web site.

"A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into making the event a success," said Ball, who claimed he's under attack by former friends he says "stole" the event from him. Citizens United's filings with the state of New York show the PAC collecting $41,563.38 during its three-year existence. Though many donations in 2004 came from Upstate New York, the vast majority of donations recorded in spring 2005 came from donors with Washington area addresses -- 120 donations in all, totaling $11,590.

We randomly contacted a dozen of these D.C. donors to ask why they gave to a New York state PAC. None could remember ever hearing of the group, let alone giving it money. But all, as it turned out, had bought tickets to the 2005 Courage Cup, held that year on June 18 in Poolesville, Md.

"I think it was billed as a fundraiser to get kids involved with polo," recalled Britt Jung, who was surprised to find herself listed as a $55 donor to CUEG -- an amount she thinks she spent on her Courage Cup ticket.

"I don't recall supporting him," said Eden Ellis, an acquaintance of Ball's who remembered hearing about his political aspirations but didn't know how $50 in her name ended up in CUEG's filings. "I think I would have remembered that."

Kids involved in Work to Ride attended the match to charm spectators with their polo skills, and brochures advertising the event cited Work to Ride as the match's sole beneficiary. We could find only one document from the Courage Cup that mentioned Citizens United -- an online form, linked from the Cup's Web site, hawking tickets to the Golden Mallet Tent, with a note at the end stating profits would go to a PAC by that name.

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