Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Free tickets illegal, watchdog says
ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York Gov. David Paterson violated ethics laws by soliciting five World Series tickets last year from the New York Yankees, a registered lobbying organization, and he should pay the maximum penalty of $96,375, staff for the state's Public Integrity Commission said Tuesday.
Paterson denies any wrongdoing. He eventually paid for two tickets, staff members paid for two, and he maintains that his presence at the game was part of a ceremonial public duty as governor that entitled him to a ticket.
At a commission hearing, Bridget Holohan, commission associate counsel, said the tickets worth more than $2,000 were not paid for in advance, and testimony from Yankees officials and a former Paterson staffer would show the governor never intended to pay until a reporter inquired the next day.
"The sad truth is that the governor intentionally misled the commission," special counsel Jeff Schlanger said. He added that Paterson's intention was compounded by his refusal to attend Tuesday's session before an administrative hearing officer.
Theodore Wells Jr., Paterson's lawyer, requested an adjournment until a related attorney general's office probe is complete.
The request was rejected. Commission staff opposed it and also said it was filed improperly.
"The commission's request that the governor simultaneously appear in different proceedings involving the same underlying facts is unfair and unreasonable," Wells said afterward.
Officials are prohibited by law from soliciting or receiving gifts with more than a nominal value. Violators can be fined.
In statements earlier this year, Paterson told commission lawyers he thought it was part of his duty to represent the state at that game and had staff call to request tickets. The governor did not pay for his own ticket but said he intended to pay for the others and that he had a check in his pocket at the game if he needed it.
"This was the first game of the World Series. It's always a national event, like the Academy Awards or, you know, governor's state address or something like that," Paterson said. He and his son had also attended Opening Day at the ballpark without buying tickets, as well as Opening Day at the New York Mets' new Citi Field, where he was introduced to the crowd, he said.
If he hadn't attended the Series opener, Paterson said, he would have been hounded by reporters. Instead, his communications director at the time, Peter Kauffmann, received questions from the New York Post about who went and whether they paid.
Kauffmann, who resigned a day after the commission accused Paterson of ethics violations in March, testified Tuesday he was initially told by Paterson's counsel's office and other staff that this met the legal criteria of a widely attended event that was also a ceremonial occasion where the governor didn't have to pay. His initial impression, also from talking to Paterson, was that they didn't have to pay for any of the tickets and didn't intend to. "That was my understanding at the time," he said.
By the end of the day, that changed. One staff member said he'd pay for his ticket, and Paterson said he was paying $850 for tickets used by his teenage son and a friend, Kauffmann said. The other aide later paid for his ticket as well.
Yankees officials testified that their policy is to require public officials to pay for tickets unless they get a letter from the officials' counsel saying it is an official event where payment is not required. They noted receiving letters to that effect from Paterson's counsel, Peter Kiernan, before both Opening Day and the World Series game.
Both sides will have a chance to suggest findings and penalties to the hearing officer, whose decision will be forwarded to the commission. The process could take months.