Tickets to Obama's Inauguration: to Scalp, or Not to Scalp
Updated, 11:39 p.m. ET
Following up on our posting from Tuesday, one of our esteemed readers raises an interesting question in the comments section about the ethics of inaugural ticket scalping.
The person, identified as nova56013, asks: "Why is it unethical for an individual to sell a ticket to the inauguration when the Presidential Inauguration Committee is selling seats for $50,000?"
Though we think there's a difference between a former congressional aide profiting personally off her connection to her former boss, a congressman, and the Presidential Inaugural Committee giving plum seats at Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony to donors who give $50,000.
Tickets for good seats to the Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony are among the sweetest of perks provided to donors who give top dollar to help underwrite Obama's massive, five-day inaugural celebration.
The PIC is selling those tickets to help fund dozens of events taking place between Friday and Tuesday, including events that are open to the public and available to "regular" people - such as the free concert at the Lincoln Memorial scheduled for Sunday. The show, which will be broadcast live by HBO, will feature some of the hottest of hot names in music - including Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Garth Brooks, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Renee Fleming, the list goes on and on.
Do the wealthy $50,000 donors get preferential treatment at an inauguration that espouses themes of unity, inclusiveness and openness? You betcha. In return for their huge checks, they get tickets to every one of the hottest concerts and parties and candlelit dinners that aren't as accessible to average Joes and Janes, and a chance to meet the new president and first lady.
Is the Presidential Inaugural Committee, a private entity, getting preferential treatment by lawmakers who want to criminalize the sale of inaugural tickets? Sure.
Sen. Dianne Feintstein's (D-Calif.) legislation to outlaw the scalping of inauguration tickets (which passed the Senate and is awaiting House action) specifically exempts the Presidential Inaugural Committee from prosecution. Feinstein's view is that the committee has a necessary need to sell those tickets in order to pay for the president-elect's inauguration, one the entire country can enjoy on TV.
Instead, her bill goes after individuals -- including those with connections to powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill -- who try to sell real or fraudulent inauguration tickets for personal gain. The estimated 240,000 tickets are distributed by Congress, free of charge.
But certain entrepreneurial individuals and online ticket brokers have been having a field day trying to capitalize on the free swearing-in tickets.
This particular broker is selling tickets to the Mall standing area for $725 a piece.
Some of the individuals who have been selling tickets online seem to have backed off their scalping plans in the past 48 hours, scared off by journalists and ethics vigilantes who have been tracking them on Craigslist and other sites -- and by threat of their actions becoming illegal.
We contacted a woman named Kathleen in Salt Lake City, Utah, who was selling two premiere tickets for the swearing-in ceremony for the bargain rate of $2,000. Asked if the tickets were still available, she said they were and quickly offered, "These are great seats, they're right on the Capitol grounds."
She told us she got the tickets from Sen. Bob Bennett's (R-Utah) office. We explained we were writing a story for our blog about inaugural ticket scalping and asked if she thought Senator Bennett was aware of her capitalistic endeavor. She said she no longer wished to discuss her ticket sale with us and hung up.
Later, her original posting on Craiglist was deleted. Intrepid Washington Post researcher, Alice Crites, tracked down Kathleen's full name but we have decided not to publish it since Kathleen, 23, has no past work history on Capitol Hill or in government. She must have been among the lucky few in Utah who applied early for tickets, which Bennett's office says were awarded on a first come-first served basis.
Bennett's spokeswoman, Tara Hendershott, tells us, "Senator Bennett does not encourage the selling of Inaugural tickets and those who will be receiving tickets from our office were asked to notify us if they are unable to travel to Washington for the Swearing-In ceremony."
Another fellow who was hawking an inauguration ticket online for $500 -- whose proposed sale was brought to our attention by an outraged vigilante who has been hunting scalpers -- works at the Corporation for National & Community Service, in a California office.
Although he works for an independent government agency, he has no political connections. (We checked.) Therefore, and because he removed his listing from Craigslist, we aren't publishing his name, either.
In an email, he told us, "Now that legislation is in play to potentially make this illegal, I will be taking my ads down."
The Presidential Inaugural Committee is on the record opposing scalping. "The PIC strongly disapproves of anyone taking advantage of our efforts to make this the most open and accessible inauguration in history to try to make a profit," says PIC spokeswoman Linda Douglass.
Mary Ann Akers
January 14, 2009; 7:14 PM ET
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