Ethics and Baseball Tickets

Baseball season is here. That means businesses will be opening their boxes and seats for entertaining clients and potential clients. Of course those tickets are gifts.

How do you treat them under your company’s gifts policy or a government’s ethics policy? One typical requirement is that you pay for the tickets. Face value is the general rule.

How about if those tickets were 2004 Red Sox World Series tickets? After all, Red Sox World Series tickets used to be very rare. (Since the new ownership, they are just uncommon.) Should you pay face value or the secondary market price?

The mayor of Pittsfield Massachusetts is countering an ethics complaint for those rare tickets. He bought the tickets for $380 from someone who had business before the city. That was $190 per ticket, the face value, for Game 2 of the World Series was played on October 24, 2004, at Fenway Park between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. It so happened that the person with the tickets and the business before the city was former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette.

The Enforcement Division of the State Ethics Commission alleges that there was enormous demand for 2004 World Series tickets. They were not available to the general public at face value, and were selling on secondary market at between $600 to $2,000 per ticket.

Section 3(a) of the Massachusetts Conflict of Interest Law makes it illegal for a government official who

“directly or indirectly, asks, demands, exacts, solicits, seeks, accepts, receives or agrees to receive anything of substantial value: (i) for himself for or because of any official act or act within his official responsibility performed or to be performed by him; or (ii) to influence, or attempt to influence, him in an official act taken”

Generally, anything worth more than $50 has “substantial value.”

One problem is that it is illegal in Massachusetts to sell tickets for more than $2 about the face value plus the costs of obtaining the ticket.  So if Duquette sold the ticket to the mayor for the secondary market price, he would have broken the law. Granted the ticket scalping laws in Massachusetts are mess.

Nonetheless, the State Ethics Commission had already issued an ethics advisory that special access to purchase tickets is a special benefit and could be an “unwarranted privilege or exemption of substantial value.”The opinion cites Ryder Cup, Super Bowl and World Series tickets as examples. (Coincidentally, that advisory opinion was issued in the spring of 2004. Clearly hope springs eternal each spring in Boston.)

The big problem is that according to the press release, Duquette admitted that he sold the tickets to the mayor because he wanted influence the mayor’s official government act. Intent usually wins, so if his admission is true then he broke the law.

The mayor is in a tougher position because the value of the tickets may be tough to ascertain. The price for the tickets will vary leading up to the game and different sellers may have different prices.

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2 Responses to Ethics and Baseball Tickets

  1. Doug Cornelius July 26, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    The State Ethics Commission, in a Decision and Order issued July 26,2010 , concluded that Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto and Daniel Duquette each violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, in connection with Duquette’s sale of 2004 World Series tickets to Ruberto. The Commission declined to impose civil penalties for the violations.

    According to the Decision, the Commission declined to impose civil penalties on Duquette or Ruberto for their violations of the conflict law for the following reasons:

    • Although the Commission found that both Duquette and Ruberto violated section 3, it acknowledged that it was a close question whether Duquette offered the tickets to Ruberto for or because of a specific official act or actions, or merely to obtain Ruberto’s goodwill. At the time he offered the tickets, Duquette did not believe that Ruberto was interested in having the Dukes play at Wahconah Park because Ruberto instead wanted a professional minor league team to play at the park. Also, there is no evidence that Ruberto was actually influenced by receiving the tickets because the final deal worked out between the city and Duquette was favorable to the City, and the negotiations were at times contentious;
    • The Commission was persuaded that neither Ruberto, who was a newly elected Mayor in 2004, nor Duquette, who was not a public employee, was aware in October 2004 of Commission Advisory 04-01, which warned that selling tickets at face value could raise conflict of interest issues if a public official, “‘accepts the special access to the tickets [to a major sporting event] offered as a result of his official position’”; and
    • Both Duquette and Ruberto knew that Duquette could not give the tickets to Ruberto for free, and they both believed that they were complying with the conflict law and scalping laws by selling the tickets at face value.

    “As stated in this Decision, to comply with the conflict law in these circumstances, Duquette should not have offered and sold the tickets to Ruberto, and Ruberto should not have purchased them from Duquette,” said Executive Director Karen L. Nober.

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