N. Texas politicians refuse to reveal ticket recipientsFriday, March 13, 2009
By JASON WHITELY / WFAA-TV
DALLAS – President Barack Obama's inauguration was the largest civic event in a generation. When he took the Oath of Office, thousands begged North Texas politicians for tickets to witness it in person.
No one but members of Congress got to distribute inauguration tickets. Some who got those great seats and once-in-a-lifetime access?
"Well, I think absolutely it's an obligation on behalf of the elected official to tell the citizens who the inaugural tickets went to," said Craig McDonald, an executive director for Texans for Public Justice - a non-profit tracking money and influence in politics.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison revealed the names of those she gave tickets
"I really don't have any problem,” she said of handing over names. “I'm proud of the people I was able to give the tickets to."
But, she's the only one.
The other eleven people elected to Congress from North Texas either ignored News 8 calls or said it wasn't the public's business.
"I think probably the reluctance to disclose this is because members of Congress don't like the public probing into how politics works,” McDonald said. “And the way politics works is you reward your donors and your donors reward you as well."
Sen. John Cornyn claims he's a champion of transparency – it even says so on his Senate website.
"Our government is based not on the need to know, but upon the fundamental right to know," it reads on his official site
But Sen. Cornyn's staff rejected requests for their ticket list. Why?
"I'm a big proponent of open government and transparency," Sen. Cornyn said. "I'm not sure when we gave the people the tickets to the inauguration - we had roughly 300 of them and we had 10,000 people request them - that they knew their name would be thrust into the public spotlight."
"It does show the hypocrisy of some politicians,” McDonald said. “As you say, Cornyn prides himself on being an open government advocate - an advocate of full transparency. Yet, apparently, in this situation, he won't tell us where the inaugural tickets went to. And again, I think they're fearful of embarrassment. Those tickets likely did go to big donors."
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson did set aside 30 tickets for constituents on a first come, first serve.
But the line the day before the inauguration was a hundred deep and people got upset believing more tickets would be available.
"We never guaranteed any tickets,” Rep. Johnson said in a phone interview that day. “We took down their requests and tried to explain that at the time."
So, where did the rest of her tickets go?
Rep. Johnson chartered an American Eagle jet to Washington, DC for 53 carefully selected people. Several who took the charter told News 8 if they paid for the $725 flight, Johnson guaranteed them an inauguration ticket.
Phoebe Silag, a spokeswoman for her office, would only say Johnson’s campaign organized the trip. Silag would not reveal who got access to the inauguration, whether they were donors or friends.
News 8 checked name after name on Sen. Hutchison's list – finding only four of the 156 who got Inauguration tickets contributed directly to her. The total sum of their contributions was $10,000 between 2007 and 2008.
Sen. Hutchison distributed tickets to people of all walks of life. However, a few names were recognizable, including one Houston television executive, Texas State Sen. Royce West, an American Airlines vice-president, a Galveston County attorney and Dallas Mavericks President & CEO Terdema Ussery.
Dozens receiving Sen. Hutchison’s generosity donated directly to Democrats. But, more than half of the recipients didn't donate to anyone.
When it passed the Freedom of Information Act, Congress didn't subject itself to it.
President Obama has pledged a new transparency in his administration. And while both parties embraced it, most apparently preach the ideal more than they practice it.