Reid Took Free Boxing Tickets Then Sponsored Boxing Bill
The scandal of the day is that Harry Reid, Nevada’s senior senator, took free boxing tickets worth thousands of dollars from his state’s boxing association while boxing legislation was pending before the Senate.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing. Reid took the free seats for Las Vegas fights between 2003 and 2005 as he was pressing legislation to increase government oversight of the sport, including the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada’s agency feared might usurp its authority.
He defended the gifts, saying that they would never influence his position on the bill and he was simply trying to learn how his legislation might affect an important home state industry. “Anyone from Nevada would say I’m glad he is there taking care of the state’s number one businesses,” he said. “I love the fights anyways, so it wasn’t like being punished,” added the senator, a former boxer and boxing judge.
Senate ethics rules generally allow lawmakers to accept gifts from federal, state or local governments, but specifically warn against taking such gifts — particularly on multiple occasions — when they might be connected to efforts to influence official actions. “Senators and Senate staff should be wary of accepting any gift where it appears that the gift is motivated by a desire to reward, influence, or elicit favorable official action,” the Senate ethics manual states. It cites the 1990s example of an Oregon lawmaker who took gifts for personal use from a South Carolina state university and its president while that school was trying to influence his official actions. “Repeatedly taking gifts which the Gifts Rule otherwise permits to be accepted may, nonetheless, reflect discredit upon the institution, and should be avoided,” the manual states.
Several ethics experts said Reid should have paid for the tickets, which were close to the ring and worth between several hundred and several thousand dollars each, to avoid the appearance he was being influenced by gifts. Two senators who joined Reid for fights with the complimentary tickets took markedly differently steps. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted on paying $1,400 for the tickets he shared with Reid for a 2004 championship fight. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) accepted free tickets to another fight with Reid but already had recused himself from Reid’s federal boxing legislation because his father was an executive for a Las Vegas hotel that hosts fights.
Reid had separate meetings in June 2003 in his Senate offices with two Abramoff tribal clients and Edward Ayoob, a former staff member who went to work with Abramoff. The meetings occurred over a five-day span in which Ayoob also threw a fundraiser for Reid at the firm where Ayoob and Abramoff worked that netted numerous donations from Abramoff’s partners, firm and clients.
A few months after the fundraiser, Reid did sponsor a spending bill that targeted $100,000 to another Abramoff tribe, the Chitimacha of Louisiana, to pay for a soil erosion study for which Ayoob was lobbying. Reid said he sponsored the provision because Louisiana lawmakers sent him a letter requesting it.
Reid also wrote at least four letters favorable to Abramoff’s tribal clients around the time Reid collected donations from those clients and Abramoff’s partners, the Associated Press reported recently. Reid has declined to return the donations, unlike other lawmakers, saying his letters were consistent with his beliefs.
That a Senator who represents the gambling capital of America needed to be bribed to support this legislation, let alone that a man of his position could be bought for such a low price, strikes me as absurd. Still, given the tenor of the times, Reid showed poor judgment in not following the lead of McCain and Ensign on this one.
Judging by the early blogosphere reaction, I’m nearly alone in this view.
Ed Morrissey thinks this is just a further example of corruption in Washington and observes, “as long as Democrats continue to screech at corrupt Republicans while excusing the likes of Reid, Kennedy, Jefferson, and Mollohan, then nothing will ever change.”
John Hawkins is amazed at Reid’s softpeddling “being given thousands of dollars worth of free tickets from a company that was hoping to influence his judgement in the Senate. If that isn’t illegal it ought to be, because it makes Reid look crooked.”
Reid’s defenders so far seem to be comprised entirely of Josh Marshall and his henchman Paul Kiel. The latter notes that “there is an exception for gifts from governmental agencies (like the Nevada Athletic Commission) in the Senate ethics rules.” Furthermore, while Reid voted with his benefactors, he voted against them on the key matter they were apparently seeking to influence:
Reid was advocating “the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada’s agency feared might usurp its authority.” Reid never changed his position. And this was a dramatically uncontroversial piece of legislation largely preoccupied with ensuring the safety of boxers by creating the United States Boxing Administration. It passed the Senate unanimously.
Of course, this could simply make Reid the Shoeless Joe Jackson of the Senate, taking bribes and then failing to pay off. But, again, taking some tickets from his own state’s athletic commission certainly strikes me as small potatoes. And I’m not exactly a big fan of Harry Reid, at least in his Minority Leader incarnation.