The University of Arkansas Athletic Department responded yesterday to my Freedom of Information Act request for names of other statewide officers who, like Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, got priority seats for Razorback football games without paying the customary priority seating contribution to the Razorback Foundation.
As noted previously, Darr bought four season tickets for all 2011 games in Fayetteville and Little Rock. He got seats in Section 102, Row 20, Seats 13-16 in Fayetteville (stadium illustrated above) and two seats each in Sections 22 and 23, rows 4 and 18 in Little Rock.
The Athletic Department has said it has been practice to exempt from the required donation for priority seats UA faculty/staff, constitutional officers, legislators and Higher Education Coordinating Board members if they pay face value for the tickets.You have to be very careful about how you phrase questions to the Athletic Department. I now have information for other constitutional officers in 2011. But I’ve amended my original request for the list of ALL those who get exemption from the contribution requirement that other ticket holders must meet, and not just in 2011.
But I can tell you that, in 2011, other ticket recipients, besides Darr, who didn’t pay the extra contribution were:
* Gov. Mike Beebe: He got two tickets in Fayetteville (section 104, row B) and four tickets in Little Rock (section 26, row AA)
* Secretary of State Charlie Daniels: He got two tickets each in Fayetteville (Section 104, row 5) and Little Rock (section 26, row 10). Daniels used carryover campaign money to purchase his tickets and justified that expenditure as a public event at which he made contact with people useful to carrying out his public responsibilities (much as Rep. John Burris justified his use of unspent campaign money to pour into political campaigns of fellow Republican legislators at so-called “ticketed events.”)
These seats are worth plenty. As the Razorback Foundation information page shows, a $3,000 contribution is necessary to buy up to eight priority seats in the section in which Darr sat at Fayetteville. A first-time contributor seeking seats in Section 104 at Fayetteville has to contribute at least $10,000 to qualify for 10 to 12 tickets. The War Memorial tickets (also midfield quality) are in the same league for required donations.
At the end of a conference call yesterday with Chancellor David Gearhart about the firing of top university spokesman John Diamond, he asked if reporters had other questions. I asked him how the university justified giving something of such large monetary value to public officials when other ticketholders didn’t get similar benefits. He laughted. I said I was serious.
He said I should ask the Razorback Foundation. I said the Razorback Foundation doesn’t take my calls and that, furthermore, the tickets are sold by his university to events at facilities on his campus in coordination between his employees and the foundation.
Then, Gearhart said, I should call Athletic Director Jeff Long.
I asked him whether he was the chancellor of the university.
We didn’t get much further on the question of where the buck stops at the University of Arkansas. But I think we already knew the answer.
Legitimate questions remain about whether the gift of this significant privilege to statewide officials, legislators and state appointees amounts to a gift in excess of the $100 limit allowed by law. Perhaps there’s a Republican who’d like to self-report in hopes of clarifying this matter.
UPDATE: The Athletic Department hastens to cite a (bad) 2000 advisory opinion by the state Ethics Commission that said a waiver of a required contribution for priority seating doesn’t count as money. It cites a rule that said higher values only should be assigned to seats in leased or skybox seats. For other seats — even those that require an extra payment from hoi polloi — face value is the determinant of value for ethics purposes. This is utter balderdash and needs to be reconsidered in light of facts the commission clearly didn’t consider in 2000. I can’t get the seat Mark Darr holds without paying the face value and $3,000. He’s getting a benefit from the university worth $3,000 that he and others haven’t reported.
It’s ironic that this 13-year-old opinion rests on a “rule.” Rules are honored in the breach at the Ethics Comission. Their rules flatly prohibit campaign contributions from campaign funds. But the Ethics Commission has found a way around that, most recently when Republican Rep. John Burris gave thousands to fellow Republican legislators.
Blue Hog Report wonders how the Ethics Commission danced around this seemingly clear state law:
21-8-304. Prohibited activities.
(a) No public servant shall use or attempt to use his or her official position to secure special privileges or exemptions for himself or herself or his or her spouse, child, parents, or other persons standing in the first degree of relationship, or for those with whom he or she has a substantial financial relationship that are not available to others except as may be otherwise provided by law.