OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- For you or me to get a ticket to a Warriors playoff game would not be easy or cheap. But for some East Bay politicians … some of the best V.I.P. seats are just handed to them.
For a basketball fan, what could beat this: Watching one of the greatest players of all time, Steph Curry, perform magic on the court, from the front row seat of a VIP suite, and all without having to pay a dime.
So who are these lucky fans? How did they get a Warriors playoff ticket that these days sells for more than a $1,000 for free? Turns out a lot of them are East Bay politicians.
Under a contract with the Coliseum complex, three premium suites are reserved for the Coliseum Authority Board of Commissioners, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the Oakland City Council.
"The city owns part of it, so that is how we get it. It's not like the Warriors or the A's are giving us a gift," said Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb. Kalb says he gives most of his tickets away, to local non-profits, community advocates, and to his hard-working staff.
"Of course Warriors games are at a premium these days, everybody wants Warriors tix, and we give most of those away as well," said Kalb.
And it's true. We culled through hundreds of publicly posted forms that elected officials are required to file, going back to January of 2015, and found Kalb used 18 warriors tickets for himself and family, and gave away 182.
But his fellow council members are a bit less generous. Take Oakland City Councilman Abel Guillen for example. He was in the council's luxury suite, cheering on the Warriors at a recent playoff game against the Trail Blazers. During halftime he posted about it on Instagram.
According to the data we compiled, he's been to see the Warriors, for free, 36 times in the last year and a half. Face value of the tickets he claimed for himself: $76,000. That's about the same as his salary.
Then there's councilwoman Lynette McElhaney, who rarely misses a game. She's been 41 times in the last year and a half. Face value of her tickets: $125,000.
"The process of giving these tickets to public officials really could give the public reason to distrust the government in Oakland," said Hana Callaghan with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, who says the tickets are supposed to be used only for public purposes.
"This is a public resource, so this would be like using a city vehicle to take your family on vacation," said Callaghan.
The "purposes" listed in the Oakland City Council's policy include rewarding a city employee, a community group, a school or a student.
Unfortunately we found politicians often using tickets for themselves instead, with excuses like "reviewing contribution of facility.' That's Councilmember Guillen's favorite. And "oversight of facilities." Mcelhaney uses that one a lot.
"How many times do you have to go to an event to actually oversee the facility?" Callaghan asks.
We wanted to talk to Council President Mcelhaney about her ticket use, but her chief of staff told us she was too busy. Same with Councilmember Guillen.
"I am disappointed that there isn't a more transparent process. They have a duty to preserve and maintain the public trust because if the public loses trust in government, government doesn't work," said Callaghan.
To be fair, we should point out that both McElhaney and Guillen also do give a lot of tickets away. But that raises a whole other issue: Who are they giving them to? And could they be handing them out to garner votes?
We also checked and it turns out there are no luxury suites for lawmakers at either AT&T Park or Levi's Stadium. But San Diego is dealing with the same issue at their stadiums and the mayor there is calling for reforms in the system.
A footnote: We got the tip about this story from a viewer in Fremont who did some investigating of his own: Thank you Eric Tsai!
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