SBD/Issue 163/Franchises

Redskins Offer Suite Guest Passes In Response To Lobbying Laws

The Redskins' sales office has given a one-page handout to a potential customer headlined "Government Ethics Rules re: Suite Tickets" that states that congressional officials "could accept a free 'Suite Guest Pass' to a skybox as long as they have a ticket for anywhere else in the stadium, including a $25 standing-room-only ticket," according to Jeffrey Birnbaum of the WASHINGTON POST. The team's "new twist" skirts a law that "forbids congressional officials from accepting anything of value from lobbyists without repayment." The document states that such guest passes "allow only a 'short visit,'" but does not "define 'short visit' or say who would monitor the requirement." Jan Baran, who specializes in ethics for law firm Wiley Rein, said, "This doesn't sound kosher to me." Redskins General Counsel David Donovan said that the document was "not legal advice and that it was intended simply to provide information to customers who had asked about the impact of the new lobbying rules." Donovan: "All we're trying to tell people is what is required to comply with the rules, not how to get around them." Redskins VP/PR Karl Swanson said that the document was "used by the team's sales force as 'a talk sheet' to provide answers when a customer asked about government ethics rules and their impact on the suites" and that the sales staff used the document with customers "fewer than 10 times in the past year and a half." Some of DC's "top ethics experts ... are not convinced that a free pass to a skybox, even if only for a short visit, is acceptable under the new law for congressional officials," and top lobbying managers also said that they "would steer clear of the free passes." But Donovan said that the team had "cleared its approach with government ethics officials" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/14).

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