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PAR Says Close Loophole Allowing Free Tickets for Elected Officials

The legislature should close the loophole that gives elected officials access to a perk that is prohibited for other public servants. SB 382 would eliminate a controversial exception in the ethics code that allows elected officials, including legislators, to receive free tickets to cultural and sporting events. The bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly by a vote of 34-0 and will be heard by a House committee tomorrow.

The ethics code generally prohibits public servants from accepting anything of value from lobbyists or persons doing business with, or regulated by, the government to prevent the appearance of impropriety. A significant exception, however, allows lawmakers and other elected officials to accept free tickets to sporting and cultural events if the value of the ticket does not exceed $100 per event or $500 a year per donor. Recent coverage of federal officials accepting free tickets from lobbyists has brought national attention to this issue.

PAR has long recommended a more stringent ethics law that would ban all gifts. Although it is unlikely that the occasional ticket would guarantee the outcome of a vote or other governmental action, the exceptions provide lobbyists with special access not available to other citizens. The cozy relationships fostered by this loophole fuel the appearance of favoritism and backroom deal making. Although SB 382 would not eliminate access to tickets offered by universities, it would go a long way toward reducing the appearance of favoritism in government decision-making.

The bill now faces the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that has been hostile to this type of ethics reform in the past. The skillful use of parliamentary procedure allowed committee members to kill a similar measure last year without voting individually on its merits. Committee members should recognize that their constituents deserve to know if their representatives are willing to sacrifice a valued perk to improve the image of the state and help restore the public’s confidence. The House and Governmental Affairs Committee should favorably report SB 382 and allow the measure to be debated in the full House.


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