Lawmakers win as Redskins lose

Fans caught scalping tickets at Washington Redskins games at FedEx Field risk a several-thousand-dollar fine. But lawmakers who effectively scalp tickets face no penalties and pick up easy money from donors.

With FedEx Field only a few Metro stations and a bus ride away from Capitol Hill, professional hockey and basketball teams downtown and a Major League Baseball team on its way, lawmakers have plenty of chances to parlay profits from ticket sales into campaign money.

When the Redskins played the Dallas Cowboys here several weeks ago, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) bought tickets from the National Association of Broadcasters and resold them for $2,000 each to donors.
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Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas)

In September, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) held a fundraiser at the same game in The Chubb Corp.’s skybox. Feeney’s campaign purchased the use of the suite and offered donors the tickets at $1,500, according to an aide.

And Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, held a $1,000-per-ticket event at FedEx Field when the Redskins played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who is facing an easy reelection contest against a relatively unknown state senator, raised $20,000 when the Redskins played her hometown Baltimore Ravens. A spokesman said the campaign paid for the tickets and catering.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who is running against Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), was “working a couple of suites” at the Cowboys game as well, said Chris Homan, a Sessions campaign spokesman.

He declined to provide specific information about which companies sold the tickets or how much money was raised.

Craig Murphy, a campaign spokesman for Barton, said: “We did have a fundraiser. The process is that you have to buy the tickets and pay for any food that is consumed. You make a donation to attend the event. You get a free ticket if you contribute.”

Fundraising at sporting events is not unusual. The congressional campaign committees and individual lawmakers, such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), have raised money at past Super Bowls.

“It’s white-collar scalping,” said an industry lobbyist whose company owns a suite at FedEx Field.

But the Federal Election Commission (FEC) considers the purchase of a ticket an “operating expenditure.” If members of Congress are given a ticket, it is considered an in-kind contribution, so the value of the ticket would have to be counted toward the $2,000 individual limit.

House ethics rules require lawmakers to pay the highest price of an individual ticket, even if the ticket has some lower price on it, if they are sitting in a luxury suite at an event in their official capacity.

The rules also require that, in addition to the value of the ticket accepted, “members and staff must pay the market value of any other benefits that are accepted in connection with the event, including food, beverages, or parking.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) have sat with Redskins owner Dan Snyder this year.

FedEx Field has 243 luxury suites, costing from about $70,000 to $200,000 a season, said team spokesman Karl Swanson. The number of seats per box varies, as does the suites’ prices, which is determined by size, location and level of hospitality service. The Redskins play two exhibition and eight regular-season games at home this season.

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