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Oakland Ethics Commission To Examine Politicians' Use Of Free Warriors Tickets

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- $10,000 dollars apiece: That's the value of tickets we've learned at least two Oakland City Council members have snagged for themselves for free, to see Game 2 of the NBA finals.

Oakland's Public Ethics Commission is now examining the city's policy on the use of the free tickets in the wake of a KPIX 5 investigation.

"Our commission has full authority to impose penalties for a violation of the Government Ethics Act," said Whitney Barazoto, who runs Oakland's Public Ethics Commission. She said the problems the KPIX 5 investigation uncovered involving the city's ticket distribution policy merit further investigation.

"We can take a look at what the public might have in terms of perception of that policy, we can hear from individuals who are affected by the policy, and then the commission has the opportunity to weigh in and provide a recommended approach for how to amend that policy," said Barazoto.

A KPIX 5 investigation found free tickets to events at the Oakland Coliseum Complex are supposed to benefit the public, but some elected officials are keeping them for themselves as a perk.

Since January of last year, Council President Lynette McElhaney has used $125,000 worth of tickets fcor herself, while Councilman Abel Guillen used $76,000 worth of tickets.

County supervisors and the commissioners that run the Coliseum complex also get tickets and it's not just to see the Warriors.

Our investigation found Guillen got two free tickets, worth $600 each, to see Prince's sold out show at the Oracle Arena in March. Supervisor Keith Carson snagged four, as did Board President Scott Haggerty.

And when Bruce Springstein came to town, Haggerty was there with his four free tickets. Supervisor Richard Valle got two for himself and two for his daughter. Others enjoyed Justin Bieber, The Who. The list goes on and on.

Politicians getting free perks might not seem all that unusual, but something big has changed.

"With  the huge acceleration in ticket prices and the prices for luxury boxes, what used to be a fairly minor perk is now financially really significant," said Stanford University Economics Professor Emeritus Roger Noll.

He says when the NFL is cutting a deal with city leaders to build a new stadium they give politicians these luxury suites as a way to sweeten the pot.

"It looks more like a bribe and less like a perk," Noll said, adding that this "tit for tat" is how most stadiums get built all across this country.

But at least one city, San Diego, decided to make some changes. That city tightened up the policy at Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park to keep a single politician from hogging the tickets all to himself.

But Noll said San Diego's tweak didn't go far enough. And that this game of political handouts needs entirely new rules.

"What the local governments should do is just sell the tickets. They should just go on to Stubhub or eBay and auction off the tickets. Elected political officials should not be allowed to use them," said Noll.

Elected officials who use the tickets for themselves have to give a reason, and once again council members going to Sunday's game claim they are going for "oversight of facility."

KPIX 5 investigation into Oakland City Council members' use of Warriors tickets: Part 1Part 2

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