The Las Vegas Journal-Review and TPM Muckraker reported several facts that appear to undermine the thrust of John Solomon's Associated Press article suggesting that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) acted improperly by accepting free tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to, as Solomon claimed, three boxing matches at a time when the agency "was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing."
In a May 29 Associated Press article, reporter John Solomon suggested Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had acted improperly by accepting free tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) to, as Solomon claimed, three Las Vegas boxing matches at a time when the agency "was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing." However, as TPM Muckraker noted, a May 31 Las Vegas Journal-Review article reported a number of facts that appear to undermine the thrust of Solomon's article.
The Las Vegas Journal-Review reported:
Marc Ratner, who was the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission at the time, told The Associated Press he invited Reid and McCain to a September 2004 bout between Bernard Hopkins and Oscar de la Hoya in part because he wanted to convince them that the state's regulation was sufficient and federal regulation wasn't needed.
Reid said Tuesday he "took care of" Ratner's concerns but didn't drop his push for federal oversight.
Ratner said Tuesday the seats Reid and McCain got weren't tickets available to the general public but "credentials" the commission gives only to public officials hoping to observe the commission's activity.
Skip Avansino, current chairman of the athletic commission and a commission member since 2002, said Reid, McCain and the athletic commissioners sat on folding chairs in a small, cramped area, not in the posh ringside seats for which pricey tickets are sold. Avansino also said the commissioners were too busy to spend much time bending Reid's ear during the fight.
Boxing promoter Bob Arum said Reid and McCain also sat in ticketed seating at about three matches each but paid for their tickets "invariably." Arum said McCain and Reid's seats at the Hopkins-de la Hoya fight, on the other hand, were credentials from the commission, not tickets from Arum. But McCain, who brought his wife to the fight, sent Arum a check for the price of two ringside seats.
Arum said he didn't know what to do with the money.
"Those credentials cannot be sold," he said. "There's no price on them. (They are given to) governors, attorney generals, boxing commissioners of other states. ... It's illegal to accept money for a credential."
Arum said he couldn't accept McCain's money but McCain wouldn't take it back, so Arum donated it to Catholic Charities.
TPM Muckraker further confirmed that it would be illegal for Reid to reimburse the NAC for the credential, according to Keith Kizer, NAC executive director:
"It would be illegal," Kizer said, explaining that it fell under a state law prohibiting agencies or individuals for charging access to government property. The credentials provide access to the commission's area near the ring. "It would be like charging someone for access to a senator's office," Kizer added with no apparent sense of irony.
He went on to explain that credentials are given out to governmental officials and others in order to observe the commission's activity. Sometimes the credentials are provided in addition to tickets -- sometimes officials sit in the commission's area.
Reid's office, meanwhile, confirmed that Reid received a credential, and not a ticket to the bout: "We know it for a fact that he had a credential."
The Journal-Review article appears to undermine the key points of Solomon's article:
- Solomon reported: "Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing." But as the Journal-Review noted, Reid received "credentials" for a September 2004 fight, not free tickets that would have been available to the public. Also, as the Journal-Review noted, the former NAC executive director said Reid and McCain "sat on folding chairs in a small, cramped area, not in the posh ringside seats." And, according to Bob Arum, the boxing promoter quoted in the Journal-Review, when Reid did receive actual ringside tickets for other fights, he paid for them "invariably."
- Solomon reported: "Several ethics experts said Reid should have paid for the tickets, which were close to the ring and worth between several hundred and several thousand dollars each, to avoid the appearance he was being influenced by gifts." Again, the Journal-Review noted that Reid and McCain "sat on folding chairs in a small, cramped area, not in the posh ringside seats" for the September, 2004 fight. Also, as noted above, according to Arum as quoted in the Journal-Review and confirmed by Kizer at TPM Muckraker, the credentials could not be paid for and therefore, according to Arum, have no monetary value. And, as noted above, Reid reportedly paid for the actual ringside tickets he received for other fights. Therefore, the experts Solomon quoted saying Reid should have paid for the "tickets" gave their opinions apparently based on Solomon's account of what transpired, key aspects of which appear to have been inaccurate. Indeed, Solomon quoted former House ethics lawyer Bernadette Sargeant qualifying her statement, saying: "From what you are describing, it is such a huge risk that a reasonable person with all the relevant facts would say this creates the appearance of impropriety."
- Solomon reported: "Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., insisted on paying $1,400 for the tickets he shared with Reid for a 2004 championship fight." In fact, McCain's payment, according to the Journal-Review, could not be accepted and was therefore donated to charity.
- Solomon reported: "Several ethics experts said they believed Reid should have paid for the boxing tickets to avoid violating Senate ethics rules." Again, Solomon's facts were apparently wrong. The expert he quoted, Washington University of St. Louis congressional ethics expert Kathleen Clark, based her comments on Solomon's claim that Reid received free tickets from the NAC, and that this gift would have been illegal had he received it from a private lobbyist. But, again, Reid did not receive free "tickets" but a "credential," allowing him to sit in a cramped folding chair. And, again, whenever Reid did receive tickets, he reportedly paid for them. Solomon quoted Clark saying: "'I think he would want to be above approach even when it's from a state commission and not a private lobbyist,' Clark said. 'I don't think we should make any assumption about a government. The fact is government agencies can act as proxies for different interests. Here it happens to be the Nevada boxing commission, and I would guess it is aligned with certain industry groups.'"
- Solomon reported: "McCain's office said the Arizona senator felt an obligation to pay for the ringside tickets he got from the Nevada commission to attend the Oscar De La Hoya-Bernard Hopkins championship match in September 2004." Once again, they were reportedly not "ringside tickets," but credentials with no market value, according to Arum, and Reid and McCain reportedly sat in folding chairs and not the actual "ringside" seats available to the public.