Saturday, May 16, 2009

Campaign Money Spent on Red Sox and Other Tickets

This article was featured in the June 21, 2009 edition of the MetroWest Daily News and submitted by my professor through the Boston University Statehouse Program. You can also view it by clicking here:

BOSTON--(May 1,2009) Dozens of Massachusetts’ elected officials spent a collective $76,000 of campaign funds for tickets to the Boston Red Sox and other sports and entertainment events, according to an analysis of records filed with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Approximately $71,000 was spent on sporting events and $15,000 on concerts between Jan.1, 2006 and April 17, 2009. The state’s campaign finance law says candidates’ purchases should enhance their political future or serve some political purpose.

Although several politicians did not respond to questions on their use of such tickets, Brad Balzer, deputy director of the campaign funding office, said ticket purchases are acceptable if they are given to campaign contributors or charities.

“Ticket purchases are allowed as long as they’re not for personal use. If a campaign, donated them to a charity for auction, then they could do it,” Balzer said. “If the primary purpose is to assist the campaign, then campaign funds could be used on those types of purchases (tickets).”

Still, others question the broad use of campaign funds for tickets.

Pam Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a government watchdog group, said candidates can build a name for themselves as beneficent figure in their districts by offering up tickets. But, she cautioned against excessive spending.

“Campaign funds really should be used for political campaigns and not for enhancing someone’s lifestyles. You don’t need someone to go to the Red Sox with your campaign money,” she said.

Politicians spent campaign funds on professional teams such as the Boston Celtics and Red Sox and minor league baseball teams like the Brockton Rox and Worcester Tornadoes as well as on Boston College and University of Massachusetts-Lowell teams.

Concert tickets were purchased through Stubhub and Ticketmaster and venues listed on the records included the Bank of America Pavilion, T.D. Banknorth Garden and the Wang Theater, all in Boston, and the DCU Center in Worcester.

Former Senate President Robert Travaglini bought Red Sox and concert tickets with campaign funds in 2008 after leaving the Legislature in March 2007 to open a lobbying firm - Travaglini, Eisenberg and Kiley, LLC.

He spent a total of $530 for campaign workers and a total of $790 for tickets donated for raffle or auction on the Red Sox. He also spent $2,300 on Boston Symphony Orchestra tickets in October 2007, according to campaign finance records.

Suffolk County Register of Probate Richard P. Iannella, who ran unopposed in the 2008 election, spent over $4,000 on Red Sox tickets that year and $4,700 in 2007, the records indicate. Some of the purchases were listed on his campaign finance records as tickets for supporters.

Travaglini and Iannella did not return telephone calls.

Senate Majority Leader Frederick Berry of Peabody spent $25,890 on Red Sox season and playoff tickets between 2006 and 2008, a span that included Boston’s 2007 World Series championship season. Records also show three separate payments for the 2008 season tickets.

Beth Mullen, a spokeswoman for the Democratic senator, said Berry gives tickets to charities like the North Shore Elder League, the Pat Cronin Foundation for Cancer, Citizens for Adequate Housing and local homeless shelters in his district.

Mullen said tickets are generally “given to constituents through a charity or auction prize but not directly.” She cited one exception when a ticket was given to a boy who was hit by a car on the way home from a Little League game.

“He’s never sat in the seats himself,” she said. “He had given money to charities in the past and realized he raised more money through auctioning off of the tickets. He could write a check for $50 to a charity but if they auction off Red Sox tickets, they could make a lot more money off of that.”

Alicia Weaver, the events manager at Help for Abused Women and Children in Salem, said when Red Sox tickets are offered up at charity auctions people often bid higher than the face cost of the tickets.
“Sport tickets are a great donation,” she said.

Robert S. Creedon Jr., the Plymouth county clerk of courts, spent $400 on Brockton Rox baseball game tickets earlier this year. He bought Rox tickets five other times over the last three years; in one instance the records show tickets were donated to the Brockton Little League.

The former Democratic senator also paid more than $3,000 to his alma mater, the Boston College Athletic Association, on game tickets for constituents.

Creedon could not be reached for comment.

The campaign funding office monitors the use of sports tickets, calling candidates to clarify that they are not attending the events themselves or giving them to family members.

“Usually tickets to sporting events would normally trigger inquiry from the office so we would caution committees on the appropriate use of funds for their campaign,” Balzer said. He noted that candidates often buy tickets as part of a fundraising event to “engender good will in charities in their district.”

Although Blazer said ticket expenditures aren’t too common, the use often spikes when a team is in the playoffs. When the New England Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl a few years ago, more candidates purchased tickets with their campaign funds and had to refund that money to their committees, he said.

Wilmot said monitoring campaign spending is one way voters could evaluate candidates.

“It’s a way for constituents to say ‘that’s not the kind of campaigning or candidate we want to support,’” she said.

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