Posts about Sports Tickets
Thanks to the many of you who sent letters yesterday, Jack Evans decided not to propose his budget amendment to allocate free sports tickets among councilmembers. Evans is also, not surprisingly, displeased that I compared his attitude over tickets to malfeasance from Harry Thomas Jr, Kwame Brown, and Harriette Walters.
Primarily, he argues that it was inappropriate to criticize him because he was just proposing to tweak a law that gives the council free tickets, not create a new one.
While it's indeed important to get the legal details as precise as possible in our articles, it's also still wrong for councilmembers to get free tickets. Any law that clarifies who gets which tickets only cements the dangerous attitude that members are entitled to free goodies by virtue of their positions.
As Evans noted, the law already requires half of DC's free tickets at the Verizon Center and ballpark to go to the DC Council, and the other half to the mayor. Evans' amendment would not create a new ticket requirement, but would have spelled out exactly how many tickets go to each member, as well as the parking passes.
Evans is right that my original intro paragraph was imprecise. I wrote that he "wants to enshrine into DC law the current practice that politicians get free sports tickets." He notes that this is already enshrined.
It is indeed important to try to get details right. I should have been more accurate. I was thrown off slightly by the Post headline that said, "D.C. politicians' free tickets could be written into law," but that's not a reason not to get things right as much as possible.
However, this also isn't the point. There is a big difference between a law that says the council gets some tickets, and a law that explicitly divvies them up among members. It also means something to take steps to further codify details of such a scheme into the law. This sends an even stronger message that these tickets are for councilmembers, their guests, or people they choose to reward. It sends the message that these are perks to which members are entitled.
Let's say 3 people come across a lost wallet on the street, and start quarreling over who saw it first and who should get the money. Is the proper response to try to help them agree on a division, or to tell them to mail it back to the person whose driver's license is in the wallet?
What Jack clearly doesn't understand is that most residents view the entire ticket giveaway as dirty. Try to move the piles of dirt around, and you just get dirtier.
Evans is the District's biggest cheerleader for huge public land and money deals for sports teams. He also benefits personally from these deals. As a result of the baseball deal, he now gets free tickets. If he succeeds in wooing the Redskins to the District, he will likely get them too. And so will his colleagues. How can we trust that they're acting in the public's best interest?
Having free parking passes (a current practice that Evans' bill would explicitly continue) also distorts our council's view. DC has made enormous efforts to make the ballpark accessible by transit, and to encourage most baseball fans to use those options. If councilmembers get free parking which most of the public doesn't get, will they recognize the value of funding better transit service?
Small perks can make a huge difference in someone's psychological outlook. Evans has been very clear that he doesn't see a problem with free tickets and parking passes, or having substantial outside income from lobbbying activities, or as he said on the WAMU Politics Hour last Friday, with the District's campaign finance laws. Most residents I've spoken with absolutely do think these are problems, and feel that the Council's ethical compass as a whole is seriously miscalibrated.
DC Councilmember Jack Evans wants to
enshrine into DC law modify DC's law to further codify the current practice that politicians get free sports tickets. This sends exactly the wrong message to DC residents frustrated with corruption and rampant cronyism in government. It tells voters that Jack, and anyone else who votes for this idea, share the sense of entitlement of far too many DC officials, some of whom are going to jail.
Former councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. (D-Ward 5) stole money directly from the public. Free sports tickets aren't the same, but share many similarities. Thomas stole because he felt that he deserved more personal benefit from his position. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) seems to feel that he deserves some freebies as well.
Please send Jack and the other councilmembers a message that their job is not to enrich themselves but to serve the people, and ask them to drop any law entitling them to free sports tickets.
The people of Ward 2 didn't elect Jack to go to sports games. They elected him to represent their interests. He already gets one of the highest salaries of a city councilmember in the nation, and then makes even more money lobbying on behalf of companies without even disclosing their identities.
But Jack seems to feel that his job entitles him to get free stuff, including stuff that he gets because of public money he spent, like $693 million on the baseball stadium. People are still debating whether that was a good deal or a horrible waste of taxpayer money. How can we trust that leaders voted with the best interests of DC at heart, or just for their personal benefit?
What about for potential stadium deals in the future? Is Jack more excited about a football practice facility than a soccer stadium just because he wants football tickets worse than soccer ones?
This attitude is sadly rampant on the council and in parts of the executive branch. Many people feel they've worked their way up to a position of power and now deserve something for it. This was the attitude behind Kwame Brown's 2 overpriced "fully loaded" Lincoln Navigators, behind Thomas' embezzling, behind Hariette Walters at the Office of Tax and Revenue, and many more. It's got to stop.
The only difference between Thomas taking money from youth baseball to pay a Hooters bill and Jack trying to get the budget to require free tickets for himself is that one broke the law to get free goodies and the other
would make free goodies the law would adjust the law to cement the free goodies. But neither is right.
Here's a better idea for a budget amendment: require that any free tickets given to politicians instead be sold, and the proceeds go toward one of many legitimate needs, from library books to just shoring up the rainy-day fund.
Tell DC Councilmembers that any vote to
mandate keep mandating sports tickets for themselves shows that they are putting their personal interests ahead of the people.
Update: To clarify, DC already gets tickets under an agreement when the stadiums were constructed, and it's been common practice thus far to distribute them among elected officials. This is wrong in and of itself, but any move to cement in law that certain people get them makes the quid pro quo even more explicit.
Further update/correction: Evans has followed up to point out that the law already requires half of the tickets to go to the council, and his budget amendment would just assign the tickets to various members. I have corrected this detail of the post.
However, I continue to feel that any step taken by the council to divvy up something that is inappropriate in the first place only reflects a belief that this giveaway is not wrong. The Council should not be tweaking its formula for giving away tickets; it should be abolishing the practice, and not doing so shows a serious ethical tone-deafness.
Tell Jack and the Council what's what
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