After a chorus of apologists insisted that Harry Reid would have broken the law by buying his own tickets to boxing matches, the AP reports that Reid has now acknowledged that he misstated Senate ethics rules in defending his acceptance of tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission. Reid’s staff now says that he will no longer accept gifts from the NAC:
Reversing course, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s office acknowledged Wednesday night he misstated the ethics rules governing his acceptance of free boxing tickets and has decided to avoid taking such gifts in the future. …
The announcement came after The Associated Press confronted Reid’s office early Wednesday with conclusions from several ethics experts that the Senate leader misstated congressional ethics rules in trying to defend his actions. …
Manley said Wednesday night that Reid “misspoke when he said the rule applies only to senators who represent the state agency.” But he added he believes Reid still could ethically accept the tickets.
“It was therefore entirely permissible for Senator Reid — a senator from Nevada — to have attended a major Nevada sporting event as a guest of Nevada officials,” Manley said.
Several ethics experts disagreed, criticizing Reid’s rationale that he felt obligated to take the tickets to ensure boxing was being conducted properly in his home state.
“He is no more obligated to go to boxing matches than he is to a Celine Dion concert in Vegas,” said Melanie Sloan, a former Justice Department prosecutor and head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The reaction to the original story was enlightening. Partisans attacked the AP for supposedly having a vendetta against Reid, parsed the ethics rules to find a reason why Reid didn’t violate them, and then postulated that Reid had a legal responsibility to accept the freebie. Even Reid didn’t go that far, and now Reid’s office has pulled the rug out from under his hysterical defenders.
Not one of them asked the question as to why Reid needed a free ticket to a boxing match to determine his vote on increased federal regulation in the first place. He spent years in the industry, as a boxer and later as a judge. What possible information could he glean from sitting ringside to watch Oscar de la Hoya and Bernard Hopkins duke it out? If he wanted to research the boxing industry, that would be the least revealing method in which to do so. As Melanie Sloan says, it would be equivalent to investigating payola scandals by sitting in the front row of a Celine Dion concert.
Anyone buying this line about research and Reid’s legal obligation to accept freebies should have their heads examined. It’s precisely this kind of excuse-making that perpetuates the ethical morass in DC. Politicians do not get paid to accept freebies from any special-interest group, regardless of their nature, when the groups have legislation pending before our representatives. Perhaps if we can all agree on that, we could start cleaning up national politics. Reid’s example was hardly the most egregious ethical transgression we’ve seen, but we shouldn’t be grading on the curve, either.
And I note that we still have no response to Reid’s multiple ties with Jack Abramoff.
UPDATE AND BUMP: In response to a comment left by new CQ reader Muddy Mo, I reviewed the commentary at the TPM Muckraker about the supposed media bias that has unfairly tarnished Reid’s reputation. Paul Kiel argues that John Solomon left out a key detail that exonerates Reid:
Yesterday, we reported that there was a major detail missing from Solomon’s story: Reid didn’t pay for the seats to the boxing matches because they were credentials given to him by the Nevada Athletic Commission – not tickets. Credentials are not for sale. In fact, it is against Nevada state law for the commission to accept money for them. …
[Promoter Bob] Arum is saying that Reid didn’t pay for credentials, because he couldn’t. But when he got tickets, which he could pay for, he did.
Solomon looks at that, ignores the whole tickets versus credentials issue, and makes Reid’s decision to pay or not pay a matter of when he became Minority Leader.
I’m excerpting here, but I would encourage readers to review Paul’s post in its entirety … because it boggles the mind that he thinks this distinction makes any difference. Kiel has argued for two days now that because the NAC gave Reid credentials rather than tickets, it somehow relieves Reid of his ethical obligations. Using Kiel’s logic, the fact that the NAC cannot sell credentials makes them worthless — even though it allowed Harry Reid to occupy seats that cost over a thousand dollars each.
Let’s play that game a little further. If I sat on the Transportation Committee and had accepted a Cadillac Escalade from General Motors, I could excuse it by saying that I wanted to study CAFE standards, and the SUV was a dealer vehicle anyway and not for sale. Perhaps, if I sat on the Foreign Relations committee, I could get a trip to St. Andrews for a round of golf from a lobbyist, and argue that I needed to study Scots Home Rule and the private jet had an extra seat no one was using.
Under these definitions, no gift would ever be unethical, as a moment’s reflection would confirm.
This is such an obviously faulty argument, I’m surprised that Paul even bothered making it. Reid and his apologists can call this anything they want, but Reid got free admittance and ringside seats that had a value in thousands of dollars from an agency that had business before the Senate. I note that John McCain paid for his admittance — and that means the NAC and Reid knew damn well how phony this “credentials” argument is.
I do blame Solomon for failing to mention this more prominently in his reporting. It exposes the NAC, boxing promoters, Harry Reid, and everyone who flacks on his behalf as seriously lacking in integrity.
UPDATE II: Decision ’08 isn’t impressed by this argument, either.
I should say that TPM Muckraker is usually intelligent and provocative, but it falls down hard here.