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$20K Inaugural Tickets for Sale as Congress Debates Ban

POSTED: 05:32 PM ET, 01/14/2009 by Derek Kravitz

In 2001, President Bush is sworn in by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, right, as wife Laura, center, holds the family Bible and daughters Jenna, second from left, and Barbara, right, watch. (Post / Frank Johnson)

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer

Selling tickets to President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony on the National Mall isn't a crime. At least not yet.

Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to criminalize the scalping of next Tuesday's inaugural tickets. The bill, which would make it a misdemeanor to sell or try to sell tickets to the swearing-in ceremony or create fake tickets, now heads to the House for approval.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, has pledged to require everyone receiving a ticket from her office to promise not to re-sell the passes, or risk having them revoked.

"The Presidential Inauguration is one of the most important rituals of our democracy," Feinstein said in a statement. "The chance to witness it should not be bought and sold like tickets to a sporting event. These tickets are free and they should remain free for the American people."

The committee is distributing 240,000 free tickets through congressional offices, most of which have held lotteries or figured out other methods to give away tickets to constituents (those without tickets can watch the ceremony on one of nearly two dozen Jumbotrons).

Some well-known sporting and entertainment ticket Web sites, such as StubHub and eBay, have agreed not to sell Inauguration Day tickets. But others are still taking part in the lucrative trade.

Inside Sports & Entertainment Group, a New York-based marketing group specializing in hard-to-get tickets for events such as the Oscars and the Super Bowl, is still offering high-priced passes for Obama's swearing-in ceremony, including a $20,000 ticket for a VIP "yellow" area complete with a color-coded map showing how close they can get to the historic event.

An Inside Sports & Entertainment e-mail sent to The Post indicated that swearing-in tickets run $1,750 each for the reserved standing room area behind the Reflecting Pool, $5,500 each for the preferred standing room area in front of the Reflecting Pool and $20,000 each for the VIP area, where there are not necessarily seats.

"IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT ALL OF THESE AREAS REQUIRE A TICKET," said the e-mail from Jason Pendrock, the firm's director of client services.

When contacted by The Post for comment, the chief operating officer of Inside Sports & Entertainment, Ety Rybak, said, "I know there's a lot of concern about the selling of swearing-in tickets, but we're selling packages and making the best effort to connect people with the different prices out there."

Rybak said his firm does not directly sell swearing-in tickets, but rather acts a middle-man for buyers and sellers found through simple Google searches.

At least one lobbyist has gotten into hot water for trying to peddle swearing-in tickets. Gina Santucci, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist who worked as legislative counsel to Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), was caught trying to sell four inaugural tickets on Craigslist, where she got an offer from someone willing to pay $875 per ticket, the Sleuth's Mary Ann Akers reported.

Santucci apologized, saying she made a "mistake" and had rescinded the deal.

By Derek Kravitz |  January 14, 2009; 5:32 PM ET
Previous: How 9/11 Changed the Quest for Intelligence | Next: White House E-Mails Lost and Found, Charges Filed Against 'Daredevil' Pilot, FBI's Blago Watch


Please email us to report offensive comments.

So, they want to pass a law to ensure that only those "connected" can get tickets? Ticket selling on craigslist is pretty much the only way this outsider can get to the ceremony.

Posted by: erobw | January 14, 2009 7:25 PM

Surprised they're not just taxing the sales.

Posted by: Gidgmom | January 14, 2009 8:58 PM

Actually this is a very savvy business move. By making the secondary sale of the tickets illegal, it means that the only people selling the tickets are Members of Congress, who will trade them for campaign donations, thereby increasing the scarcity and the value of the tickets.

Posted by: wiggidywack | January 14, 2009 9:03 PM

So if I understand this correctly, I could sell my swearing-in ticket LEGALLY if I also include it with a home-cooked meal package?

Posted by: PGirl | January 14, 2009 10:01 PM

sounds absurd.. the most important day in democracy and you have to have a ticket to see it. i wonder who profits from the balls that will be going on all weekend ??? since obama beleives in a transparent congress; I want to see where the money is going. lol

Posted by: champion200 | January 14, 2009 10:38 PM

Hey Congress! Here's an idea: why don't you stop coming up with new things to criminalize, and instead figure out why the USA has the world's largest prison population, ahead of even China and Russia?

Posted by: DupontJay | January 14, 2009 11:42 PM

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