The head of a statewide good government group says it will be "difficult" for state legislators to remain objective when voting on the proposed $186 million state bail-out of the New Orleans Saints football team.
Richard Adler, president of Common Cause/Louisiana, says Saints owner Tom Benson offered every lawmaker a chance to buy two Super Bowl tickets, for a face value of $400 each. That's a total value of $115,200, while some tickets' street value was triple their original cost.
A Feb. 3 editorial in the Baton Rouge Advocate denounced lawmakers for taking Benson's offer of the hard-to-get tickets. "Perhaps they will not remember the hot ticket when asked to pass dispassionate judgment on the 10-year, $186 million bailout of the Saints," the paper opined. "That's asking too much of our legislature."
Gov. Mike Foster's office reportedly paid for 58 tickets to the NFL championship game, at a face value of $23,200 and a reported potential re-sale value of $87,000.
The Baton Rouge Business Report said the state legislatures of three previous Super Bowl hosts -- Florida, California and Georgia -- were not offered Super Bowl tickets. "Common Cause/Louisiana objects ... to the acceptance of these favors by our public officials," Adler said in a news release. "Is it any wonder citizens have become cynical about state governments?"
Saints owner Tom Benson was out of town last week and could not be reached for a response by presstime. A Saints spokesperson says Benson has not commented on the ticket offer.
An attorney for the Louisiana Ethics Commission says neither Benson's offer nor the legislators' purchase of the tickets appears to have violated state ethics laws on gifts and gratuities for public officials. "There doesn't seem to be any violation of the state Code of Governmental Ethics since the tickets were paid for at face value," says Kathleen Allen, staff attorney for the ethics board. Gov. Foster has said because the lawmakers paid for the tickets, legislators did nothing wrong. But state Rep. Warren Triche, a critic of the governor's bailout plan for the Saints, had sharp words about the deal.
"It damn well smacks of, 'Hey look, I need your vote, and this is an excellent opportunity for me to get close to you," Triche told the Advocate.