N.Y. Gov. Paterson's Free Yankee Tickets Earn Him a Stiff Fine
On Monday, Patterson was fined more than $62,000 for accepting and receiving five free tickets to the opening game of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium, marking the latest chapter in the long and sometimes dubious history of politicians attending sports events.
Paterson's fine, which is about 30 times the face value of the tickets, was levied by the New York State Commission on Public Integrity, which said Paterson had no intention of paying for the tickets he secured for himself, two aides, his son and a friend of his son, and performed no ceremonial duties. Commission Chairman Michael Cherkasky said in a statement that Paterson "set a totally inappropriate tone by his dishonest and unethical conduct."
Of course, the political practice of attending sporting events goes back to at least 1910, when William Howard Taft started a century-long tradition by throwing out the "first" ball at Washington, D.C.'s Griffith Stadium before a Washington Senators baseball game.
Questions About Conflicts of Interest
But the issue for local politicians has grown thornier in recent years as ticket prices for luxury boxes and front-row seats have skyrocketed. As fewer and fewer team owners finance their own stadiums, more of them depend on agreements with, and funding from, a city, county and state, thus raising more questions about conflicts of interests.
Within the past couple of years, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has faced multiple ethics reviews over thousands of dollars worth of free tickets to dozens of local events, including Los Angeles Lakers basketball games and Dodgers baseball games. Villaraigosa, who took office in 2005, has accepted more than 80 tickets to sports events as well as the Grammy Awards and the Oscars, the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly reported earlier this year.
Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns both the Lakers' home arena, Staples Center, and the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, had extensive agreements with the city of Los Angeles in developing its $2.5 billion LA LIVE entertainment complex in downtown L.A.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a mainstay at Yankee games during his term and a symbol of the city's post-9/11 resurgence, paid for just "some" of his seats, and may have paid less than 10% of market value for the replicas of four Yankee World Series rings he received from the team, the Village Voice reported in 2007 (Giuliani said he paid fair market value for them). During that time, the Yankees were attempting to broker a deal for a new stadium on the city's West Side.
The Yankees have a "myriad and continuing business and financial interests that relate to New York State government," including real estate, stadium development and tax matters, the commission said. Paterson's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment or release a statement on Monday.