Thursday, August 09, 2012

Mayor Rawlings-Blake Loves Free Tickets

It was reported in the Baltimore Sun this week that the Mayor's office and the Baltimore City Council's office have been receiving free tickets to sporting and entertainments events, such as Ravens' games, Orioles' games, and concerts.

There was a general sense of outrage when the story broke, but Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore City Council assured us that no tax payers money is being used, therefore it's okay.  Then there was a general sigh of relief.  That's unfortunate.

I'm sure many government officials in states and cities across the country do the same thing.  This is most likely the second argument that we'll hear from the free ticket consumers.

What people fail to realize is that these tickets are what one might consider soft donations.  It's not money, but there is a monetary equivalent.  And while it's important that there is no tax payer money involved in the acquisition of the tickets, it misses the point.  By providing elected officials with this benefit, intentionally or unintentionally, they are gaining favor which may influence their behavior on municipal or legal matters involving the organizations providing the tickets.

Let's say that I own a theater on North Eutaw Street in downtown Baltimore.  Let's say that there is another push to raise property taxes.  And let's say that the sidewalks and street lights are older on this street and need to be replaced.  I'll schedule a meeting to see the Mayor or City Council.  I'll make my speech, state my grievances, make my requests, and before I leave I say, "Oh, by the way, here are some tickets to the latest shows at my theater, compliments of the house."

Is this not a problem?  Most would agree that it would be.  While this may not directly be the situation, by continuously providing these tickets, these owners of sports and entertainment venues will be able to get a quick ear with the Mayor or the City Councilmen and most likely get favorable opinions and rulings from them.

In the private sector, profit is the motive, but companies are regulated by the government or quasi-government organizations such as FINRA and the SEC.  Bribery and conflicts-of-interest are no-no's subject to punishment by these regulating organizations.  I would not be allowed to accept tickets to free concerts or sporting events unless it's a business meeting with the client or the value of the tickets is less than some ridiculously low amount.  Why are government officials not subject to this same sort of requirement?  Is hypocrisy the rule of the City Hall?

The citizens of Baltimore and Maryland have a right and an obligation to be outraged about the free tickets scandal and should demand an end to it immediately.

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