giovedì 15 gennaio 2009
THE OBAMA'S PRICE
The Senate Tuesday night passed legislation to criminalize the sale of inaugural ticket scalping, just hours after the Sleuth revealed that a former House GOP aide was hawking tickets on the Internet.
As the Associated Press reports, the Senate unanimously approved the bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) Now the bill goes to the House.
The Sleuth's posting from earlier today follows:
Selling inauguration tickets isn't illegal, not yet anyway. But it was still embarrassing for one former congressional aide who now works at a powerful lobbying firm when she was caught this week trying to sell tickets to Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony for big bucks.
The former aide is Gina Santucci, who now works as associate general counsel at BGR Holding, the lobbying, public relations and financial advisory firm formerly known as Barbour Griffith & Rogers, founded by current Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and veteran GOP political strategist Ed Rogers.
Until recently, Santucci worked as legislative counsel to Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), whose office received its share of inaugural tickets on Tuesday. Santucci was on the congressman's distribution list, Poe's office acknowledged when contacted by the Sleuth.
But Santucci apparently had no intention of going to the inauguration herself. Her entrepreneurial spirit took over, and she headed straight for Craigslist, where she listed four of the highly coveted tickets to Obama's inaugural ceremony and fetched a speedy offer from someone willing to pay $875 a piece.
The email exchange between Santucci, who used her real name and personal email address, and the prospective buyer, who used the name "Jackie Kentucky" from a gmail address, was forwarded to the Sleuth.
"Jackie - Just to confirm, you'll pay $3500 for 4 tickets? Are you able to pay in cash?" Santucci wrote. "I am picking up the tickets on Wednesday afternoon and will be able to meet you after that."
Jackie Kentucky wrote back, agreeing to pay cash if Santucci could produce a letter or email proving authenticity of the inauguration tickets.
"Yes, I have an email, but will redact information identifying Member of Congress as he is a personal friend of mine and I do not want to cause embarrassment," Santucci replied. She added that she could thrown in an extra ticket, upping the price to $4,500 for five tickets.
Contacted by the Sleuth, Poe's spokeswoman, Deeann Thigpen, acknowledged the congressman's office intended to give Santucci tickets to the inaugural swearing-in. But she said the congressman didn't expect Santucci would sell them.
"Unfortunately it's not illegal to sell the tickets," Thigpen said, adding, "but that was not the intention of our office." She said Santucci would no longer be receiving tickets from Poe's office.
Jackie Kentucky, a Sleuth in her own right, forwarded the email exchange to us with a link to a photo gallery on Poe's congressional Web site that included a photo identifying Santucci as Congressman Poe's legislative counsel. (Here is a frame grab of the Web page she sent us; Santucci is the aide giving an award in that photo.)
Congressional aides have been warned repeatedly by House and Senate ethics officials and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies not to sell any of the Obama inaugural ceremony tickets that are being distributed by Congress free of charge this week.
And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the JCCIC, is still trying to win Senate approval of legislation to criminalize the sale of tickets to the presidential inaugural swearing-in ceremony by anyone - on or off Capitol Hill.
Contacted by the Sleuth, Santucci acknowledged her attempted sale of the tickets on Craigslist, saying, "I made a mistake. It was a bad idea. I won't be accepting the tickets and I clearly won't be selling them."
She didn't mention Congressman Poe by name but said, "I'm sorry for any embarrassment I've caused to anyone."
After realizing Santucci's intent to sell the tickets, Poe, a former judge and prosecutor who was recently appointed to serve on the House Judiciary Committee, sent an email to everyone on his distribution list reminding them that inaugural tickets are for personal use only and not to be sold.
Feinstein hopes Congress will pass her bill this week. It would make it a misdemeanor to sell or attempt to sell tickets to the swearing-in ceremony or create fraudulent tickets, punishable by up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to one year. (For unknown reasons, the bill is being held up by certain GOP objections.)
Informed of Santucci's attempted sale of inaugural tickets, Feinstein told the Sleuth, "I believe the scalping of inaugural tickets runs contrary to the spirit of this historic inauguration. Anyone who has requested tickets from my office will be required to agree not to sell them, or will have their tickets revoked."
By Mary Ann Akers | January 13, 2009; 3:30 PM ET