Harry Reid Violates Senate Rules on Gifts

In 2004 Harry Reid of Nevada accepted ringside tickets for the Oscar Oscar de la Hoya/Bernard Hopkins fight. Senator John McCain of Arizona attended the fight and it has been reported that he paid the $1400 cost of the ticket. Harry Reid did not pay for the ticket and has claimed that he was working the night of the fight in an effort to understand boxing regulations. Ostensibly, Reid was checking to see how regulation of the industry would affect boxing in Nevada. Since Reid was a boxer and a boxing judge, it is unlikely he was trying to understand the regulations that govern how matches are conducted (or the rules of the sport). At the time of the fight, McCain and Reid oversaw legislative efforts to federally regulate the boxing industry.

Harry Reid has answered questions regarding his acceptance of the gift. He claims it was necessary for him in order to understand how regulations would affect the industry in Nevada:

“I represent the state of Nevada,” Reid said, answering news media questions at a veterans event in Las Vegas. “The Nevada Athletic Commission is part of the state of Nevada. It seems to me only logical that anything good for the state athletic commission is good for the state of Nevada.” Review Journal

Interestingly, in the explanation for the tickets Reid indicates that McCain paid for his ticket because he is not from the state. The article describing the incident states that neither Senator paid for the tickets but that McCain paid for his wife and daughter, who attended with him. While Harry Reid goes on a long explanation about how he should not have to pay for the tickets, the person from the Athletic Commission who gave Reid the tickets indicates they were “credential” seats for which they are not allowed to accept money. The whole description varies greatly from Reid to the member of the commission. It is important to note that the sole purpose of the invitation to the fight was to influence pending legislation, which is against the law:

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. [my emphasis] Review Journal

Senate rules clearly prohibit members from accepting gifts above certain values. A normal gift must cost less than $50 and the annual total from any source of a non-exempted gift can not exceed $100. The value of ringside tickets is over $1000. Harry Reid accepted these tickets and did not pay for them (Senate Ethics Manual page 22). Gifts are also prohibited if the intent of the gift is to influence the Senator’s decisions regarding legislation. Considering the value of ringside seats and the fact that the person who gave Reid the tickets expressly stated he did it to show Reid that the federal legislation was not needed, it is obvious that Reid violated the Senate’s rules on gifts. Considering that Mr. Ratner indicated he was trying to influence the legislative process, Reid is most likely guilty of taking a bribe or illegal gratuity:

Section 7353 of Title V generally bars solicitation and acceptance of gifts, except as permitted by the Committee on Ethics. Where the solicitation or acceptance is tied to an official act, however, the U.S. Criminal Code comes into play. The federal bribery statute makes it a crime for a public official, including a Member or employee of the Senate, to ask for or receive gifts,
money, or other things of value in connection with the performance of official duties. Bribery occurs when a federal official ‘‘directly, or indirectly, corruptly’’ receives or asks for ‘‘anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for . . . being influenced in the performance of any official act.’ (Ethics Manual page 58)

At the time of the first revelations Reid said he “took care of” Ratner’s concerns but didn’t drop his push for federal oversight (Review Journal). By indicating that Reid had addressed the concerns of the man who wanted to show him legislation was not needed, he admitted that he did something favorable for a person in exchange for something of value. This again, is illegal.

Harry Reid can discuss how important he is and how important the boxing match was but the Senate Ethics Manual indicates that a sporting event is not an event for which free tickets may be accepted. While Reid could contend that he was performing an official function for the purpose of his job (which he did say) he did not do anything job related. He watched a fight. Additionally, the sole purpose of his invitation was to influence legislation.The event itself was strictly sporting entertainment:

‘‘Free attendance’’ at a widely attended event does not include an offer of free attendance (i.e. a ticket) to a sporting, entertainment, or other purely recreational event. See the section on sporting events in this chapter and the section on attendance at a charity event, below. (Ethics Manual page 38)

The Senate Ethics Manual also requires that Senators report gifts with a value of more than $285. The Nevada Commission indicated the tickets had no value and they could not take money for them. By Senate rules (page 60), if the seat has no value or price then Reid was required to use the closest seat to him that does have a price (ringside). They have certain time frames in which to report them and there is an annual form that must be filed. Harry Reid is amending his right now because of the questionable deals he made with regard to land he sold a few years ago, as was indicated in this post. I searched Reid’s financial disclosure forms for 2004 and 2005 and the only gift he reported was the gift of land left to him when a friend died. Harry Reid did not report the tickets he received in 2004 or any of the other times he was reported to have received free tickets. This is another violation of the Senate Ethics Rules.

In addition to the violation of one Senate Ethics Rule after another, there is one other thing that the government should look into. The gifts were of value and therefore they might be required to be reported as income on tax returns. It needs to be determined if these items were required to be reported and if so, were they. If they were and Reid did not, he is also guilty of tax evasion. I would like to see an ethics investigation of Harry Reid’s activities with regard to these boxing tickets. If he violated the ethical requirements of his job then he needs to step down. It is only right to expect an investigation and to not take Harry’s word for it. He has shown that he can not exactly be trusted to do what is ethical. Additionally, he should be held at least to the same standard as the people who pay his salary. This happened in 2004, but Reid has been a bit lax in the ethics department and is just now repairing other unethical behavior on his disclosure forms. It is only right to make sure this one is addressed as well.

John McCain was with Harry Reid and as of right now it is unclear if he paid for his own ticket. Reid indicated McCain did and the Nevada official indicated that McCain paid only for his family. If McCain did not pay for his ticket he needs to be held accountable for that and to the same standards required of all Senators. McCain’s 2005 Disclosure Form did not have the tickets. This was the only year currently available and if he paid for the ticket he would not have to report it.

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