I have received the rest of the information I requested from the University of Arkansas Athletic Department on those who are exempted from the requirement to make payments to the Razorback Foundation to get priority seating at Razorback football games.
I started on the quest when we learned that Lt. Gov. Mark Darr had charged Razorback season tickets to his campaign account in 2011, seemingly a personal expenditure not allowed under the campaign finance law. Though legislators have successfully argued that their attendance at public events can sometimes be viewed as enhancing their public service. (Right.)
The Darr purchase led me to the discovery of UA-sponsored favoritism. I inquired and learned that the UA as a matter of policy exempted statewide officers, legislators, members of the Higher Education Coordinating Council, UA faculty and staff and Razorback letter winners from making the extra contribution for good seats. They are required to pay face value for their tickets. But that is a financial bargain, sometimes huge, compared with regular fans, who must pay hefty charges for better seats.
I’ve already reported that Gov. Mike Beebe and Auditor Charlie Daniels (who used campaign carryover money to purchase the tickets) also receive the benefit of face-value tickets. Beebe’s choice midfield tickets normally require a $10,000 contribution for a first-time buyer. I also reported that 1,236 UA faculty and staff purchased tickets for this season at face value without being required to pay the priority seat charge.
Now the rest of the story.
Some bought tickets for both Fayetteville (FSF in the list) and Little Rock (FSL) games. Some bought tickets for only one stadium. In every case, no seat charge was required. Again, this is a significant benefit. You can look at the list and compare with stadium charts to see where the legislators are sitting. This link to the Razorback Foundation priority seat plan shows you how much money must be paid to sit in the various sections of the stadiums. For example: Dan Douglas, Deborah Ferguson, Michael Lamoureux, Andrea Lea, Jim Hendren, Larry Teague and Jon Woods all have tickets in Section 103 in Fayetteville. First-time buyers hoping for seats in that section must pony up $10,000.
That’s not the end of the perks. Legislators also get free parking in Fayetteville, a perk that even some Razorback Foundation contributors are going to lose under the new priority points plan to take effect next year. Richard Hudson, Vice Chancellor for Government & Community Relations not Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, explains:
My office mails parking permits for Fayetteville games to those legislators, constitutional officers, and Higher Education Coordinating Board members who purchase season tickets. Parking is not provided for games in Little Rock.
The campus parking provided is between the Administration Building and Silas Hunt Hall, and I report the parking in my lobbyist report at $20 per game.
I also provide a single-game parking permit if a non-season-ticket purchaser who is a member of one of the above groups lets me know he or she is coming to an individual game.
Two Higher Education Board members benefit from the bargain ticket policy for political insiders. They are Charles Allen of Little Rock (two tickets each in Fayetteville and Little Rock) and Joe Bennett of Harrison, two tickets in Fayetteville. Both sit in Section 106 in Fayetteville.
There are dozens and dozens of Hog lettermen exempted from the payment, including U.S. Sen. John Boozman. My reading of the new priority points system is that they’ll get consideration under the new program taking effect next year, but not necessarily a full free ride.
So there you have it. The University of Arkansas is giving away tens of thousands of dollars worth of priority seating and free parking to elected officials. Under what laughably passes for “ethics” in Arkansas, this is freely given by a public institution, happily taken by many officials and smiled on benignly by people with the title ethics regulators.
Woo Pig Sooie.
Here’s the 2000 opinion, clearly in need of reconsideration, by which the Ethics Commission blithely found there was no value in free priority seating in their interpretation of the law and thus elected officials were free to accept it. It runs directly contrary to state law that says elected officials shouldn’t use their positions to receive benefits not available to others.