Perks for public officials are always a source of taxpayer discontent. However, unrest rises to fever pitch when you start talking about access to athletic tickets for events like the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 9 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The rematch between LSU and Alabama is one of a number of featured attractions at the Superdome this year and next, so we can expect the protests over public officials being first in line for ticket access to continue.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, other statewide elected officials and members of the Legislature had an opportunity to purchase BCS tickets. Only three of 144 legislators declined the offer, according to a report in The Advocate.
LSU gave elected officials a chance to buy two tickets each. But what really got people’s dander up was the fact the Sugar Bowl Committee made four additional tickets available to each legislator. Most LSU season ticket holders considered themselves lucky if they had an opportunity to buy two tickets, much less six. The price is $350 per BCS ticket, but their true value is many times that.
Not too many years ago, elected officials received free tickets from LSU and other universities, or got them from lobbyists. You can just imagine how that went over with fans and taxpayers. Some members of the media were also given free tickets years ago, and that wasn’t right, either. Tougher media ethics rules established by the industry have curbed most of those special privileges.
The practice of handing out free tickets also ended for elected officials, but it didn’t happen overnight. Legislation banning free tickets had tough sledding for years until the freebies were outlawed.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a state senator at the time, was a prime mover in that effort. In 2005, he said the ethics code exception that allowed elected officials to get the perks had to end because people often believed those tickets offered lobbyists undue influence over officials. Opponents of the ban came up with some lulus for excuses.
Some said Dardenne’s legislation was broad and unclear and legislators might not be able to accept invitations to charity events. A few House members in 2005 and 2006 said the Senate passed the ban unanimously, knowing the bills would be killed in the House. And the House did just that. It never let the bill out of committee in 2005 and voted 49-43 to postpone the legislation in 2006.
Persistence eventually paid off and free tickets were banned, but the access to tickets at face value is still out there for the taking.
Legislators who were asked about the BCS tickets said they would either use them or give them to constituents.
“LSU makes these tickets available for purchase to these offices because they play a vital role in the continued success of Louisiana State University,” Herb Vincent, associate vice chancellor for communications at LSU, told The Advocate.
The newspaper got a number of comments on its ticket story, and some made an awful lot of sense. Here are some examples:
“Higher education is receiving the lion’s share of the mid-year budget cuts. This particularly offensive act of schmooze is not working for you, LSU,” one reader said.
Another said, “This is why this state will never progress despite the plans and slogans the good ole boys sell us at election time. They are disconnected from the populace, live in gated communities, entertain in their private clubs and look far down on the rest of us…”
A third reader asked this question: “Just curious… If the tickets are made available to these elected officials and they give them to constituents, how is this any different than an elected official buying a vote, which is unethical AND illegal?”
If tickets to athletic events were available to the general public, complaints like these wouldn’t be so numerous. However, that is no longer the case at LSU that levies special tradition fees just for the right to purchase tickets. And the more you contribute, the better your chances for buying tickets to major events like the BCS Championship Game.
Ask legislators or other elected officials how they would feel if their right to purchase tickets was no longer possible, and the odds are most will tell you it’s no big deal. However, as long as the opportunity is out there we know most aren’t going to pass it up.
There is another side to this story. You can’t help but wonder what some of those LSU fans who are so upset would do if they were an elected official and had a chance to buy some of those premium tickets. That wouldn’t make it right, of course, but it is something to think about.
The kindness of a good friend — and his wife who would have gone — made it possible for me to attend the 2008 BCS game with him when LSU defeated Ohio State. It was a rare and enjoyable experience. This time around, like most of you, I will be watching from my easy chair at home and am looking forward to seeing LSU come away with another victory.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than ÿve decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].