Scalpers hawking members’ inaugural tickets online

Free presidential inauguration tickets given out by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and other lawmakers are being hawked online for thousands of dollars.

The scalping of the tickets technically is not illegal, but it is frowned upon by members on both sides of the aisle.

People looking to make a quick buck off of the inauguration are scalping the free tickets doled out to constituents by congressional offices — including from the offices of Pelosi and Portman — and attempting to sell them for big money on Craigslist.

ITK uncovered hordes of ads, many of them discreetly worded, on the classifieds site seeking to sell tickets to President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 21. 

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One seller, who writes that he or she has “been doing this for a long time,” posted a link on Craigslist to a separate site hawking a so-called “inauguration package,” complete with Metro passes, an itinerary, maps and two “Blue West Standing Center Official tickets above the reflecting pool, not in the general public area on the Mall.” The package’s price? A whopping $3,000.

Another scalper writes, “Need tickets to be part of the history of the beginning of the second Barrack Obama [sic] second act? … IF SO, perhaps I can be your magic genie!” But it’ll take more than a rub of the genie’s lamp to get the inaugural goods — the seller claims to be offering “reasonable fees” for seated or standing tickets to the ceremony.

Yet another seller is offering a single standing-room ticket to Obama’s swearing-in for $175, and even includes a redacted official note to show the pass’s authenticity. The seller claims to have been given four tickets; the one for sale is an extra, said to be “very hard to come by.”

While many are careful not to reveal too many details about the source of their inauguration tickets, some aren’t so shy. “I have two tickets to the inauguration plus two tickets to a mid-day reception at Capitol Hill on Jan. 22, 2013,” reads one Craigslist ad listing the pair of tickets for $2,000. “You will have to pick up tickets from Senator Nancy Pelosi’s office [sic] a few days before the inauguration.” The seller incorrectly lists the California Democrat’s title as senator, rather than House minority leader.

Pelosi press secretary Drew Hammill said in an email, “Our office has implemented a number of procedures to ensure that no one is able to do such a thing with tickets through our office. We will continue to monitor such websites and ask that any posts be taken down immediately.”

Another seller goes a step further than the Pelosi ad. Writing that he or she was given four free tickets but two of the party couldn’t make it, a Craigslist advertiser is selling the remaining pair of tickets for $250 apiece. The listing includes a note with official letterhead — with identifying info about the seller blurred out — from Portman’s office. The letter, signed by Director of Operations Jim Durrett, indicates that the recipients of the inauguration tickets should let Portman’s office know “as soon as possible” if they’re unable to attend the festivities “so that we may assist others.”

Portman’s press secretary, Caitlin Dunn, said, “Sen. Portman’s office has not distributed inauguration tickets to anyone yet.” Dunn added, “If there is a way for our office to determine who is trying to make a profit off the tickets, we’ll see to it that those tickets in question are given to Ohio constituents free of charge.”

Inauguration tickets are generally distributed by members of Congress just days before the event. 

One Craigslist merchant “near the White House,” claims his/her price tag of $4,000 for two tickets pales in comparison to deals posted by other money-hungry inauguration sellers. The Craigslist ad links to another website, GreatSeats.com, which offers a pair of seats for an eye-popping $12,500 each.

In 2009, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pushed legislation through the Senate banning the sale of inaugural tickets. Feinstein, then the chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), said at the time, “The Presidential Inauguration is one of the most important rituals of our democracy. The chance to witness it should not be bought and sold like tickets to a sporting event.” Online auction outlets, like eBay and StubHub, voluntarily agreed at the time not to allow inauguration ticket sales on their sites. Those attempting to purchase tickets to the swearing-in ceremony on StubHub on Tuesday would receive a message noting, “Because the majority of tickets for this event are free we will not be offering tickets to this event,” accompanied by a link to the Presidential Inaugural Committee website.

While Feinstein’s bipartisan bill passed the Senate, it did not clear the House. Feinstein declined to comment on the latest scalping incidents.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the current JCCIC chairman, tells ITK in a statement, “Any constituent who wins tickets in the lottery that my office holds is required to pledge not to scalp the ticket to turn a profit.” He included a suggestion for fellow lawmakers: “When the tickets are released this year, I’d encourage my colleagues in the House and Senate to take similar measures to discourage ticket holders from using those tickets to make a quick buck.”

ITK attempted to contact the sellers of the tickets appearing to come from Pelosi’s and Portman’s offices, which had both been on the site for less than three days. Both messages were returned with an automatically generated email stating the posts had expired or were deleted.

Craigslist did not return a request for comment.

— Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.