As promised, Jennifer, a congressional staffer who’s helped me navigate the Denver convention, came through with tickets for the big Kanye West concert.
“Is everybody ready to PARTY?” she shouts.
“YESSSS!” we all cheer.
Suddenly, Jennifer’s BlackBerry rings. “I have to take this. Uh-huh, uh-huh… uh-oh!” She turns to the crowd. “We can’t go.”
“WHAT?” everyone shouts in unison.
“Well,” she continues, “we can go, but we have to pay $90 each – fair market value for the ticket.”
“Ninety dollars!” the group moans.
“Legal says that according to the new ethics rules the concert falls within the description of a gift. So, unless we want to pay, we can’t go.”
When the Recording Industry Association of America sent out invitations to the event, the Washington Post reported (Aug. 26), “…the association’s lawyers were still awaiting word from House and Senate ethics committees about whether admission for lawmakers and their staffs could be free. The Senate panel determined that it would be fine — that this was ‘a widely attended event,’ a legal exception to prevent members from having to pay if lots of regular folks were going to attend at no charge.
“…on Monday, the industry group sent an e-mail to House lawmakers and their staffs to alert them that their chamber’s ethics panel reached a different conclusion — that a free ticket was akin to a gift, and was therefore illegal.
“…ethics lawyers said the industry will have to post signs warning House aides that they must pay the $90 fee and set up a booth to collect the money, or else the industry could face criminal charges from the Justice Department for knowingly giving illegal gifts to congressional staff members.”
Libby Greer, chief of staff to Florida Representative Allen Boyd said, “We came here to nominate a president and have a good time. A Kanye show counts toward the latter, and the fact that I have to drop $90 is not something I’m going to let blow my good time. If Kanye West came to the Verizon Center, I’d have to buy a ticket to see him there, too; same rules apply.”
Meanwhile, back with the group.
“These new ethics rules have made it more difficult for all of us, Jim,” an exasperated Jennifer says.
“If ethics were easy,” I remind her, “everybody would be doing it. Of course, there is one way to make it a lot easier; something that would involve no expensive-time-consuming vetting by lawyers.”
“Have every member of congress and staff, take the following pledge:
“As a member, officer and employee of the people of United States, I will, at all times, conduct myself in a manner that reflects honorably on the trust and confidence of the American people. In order to live up to the highest standards of that trust, I pledge to accept nothing from a lobbyist, corporation, association, union or any other entity that may reduce that trust in the eyes of the American people.”
“Nothing?” she asks.
“Nothing.” I say.
“I don’t know if we have to go that far, Jim?”
“With trust at an all time low for members of Congress, can you afford not to?”
* * *
Note: Jim’s “On-the-scene” coverage takes place from his home-office and internet access. However, the facts concerning the new House Ethics rules, the Kanye West concert, the Washington Post and Libby Greer quotes are all accurate. Oh, and “congressional staffer Jennifer ” is a fictional device.