Free U.S. Open tickets going to lawmakers’ spouses, family

Staff photographer

State lawmakers were told earlier this year they each could accept one free ticket to the U.S. Open without violating legislative ethics rules.

But it turns out lawmakers actually were offered two complimentary tickets to the golf championship, and many of the 10 lawmakers attending the tournament are using the second ticket to take a spouse or family member.

Another lawmaker who no longer plans to attend the Open this weekend said he intends to give both his free passes to his brother-in-law.

The majority of lawmakers who accepted free-one day passes to the U.S. Open are making a charity donation to offset or match the cost of their complimentary tickets. House and Senate lawyers said lawmakers must make such a donation if they plan to accept a second free pass.

Normally, state legislators are prohibited from accepting gifts valued at more than $50. Each one-day pass to the U.S. Open is valued at between $110 and $125, according to legislative staff.

But the state’s Legislative Ethics Board said in April that lawmakers could accept one free ticket to the golf championship, mainly because their time on the golf course would include a three-hour briefing by Pierce County officials that connects to lawmakers’ official legislative duties.

At that time, Pierce County – which is hosting the Open at Chambers Bay, the county-owned golf course – didn’t mention the possibility of offering a second free ticket to lawmakers. Tickets to the U.S. Open have been sold out for months.

Last month, House and Senate lawyers said legislators could accept a second free pass, but only if they gave a donation of $60 or $75 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound. Such a donation would cover the difference between the ticket price and the $50 gift limit laid out in state law, according to the lawyers’ advice.

On Thursday, six of the 10 lawmakers planning to attend the U.S. Open confirmed they intend to use their second complimentary ticket to bring a guest.

Five of those – Reps. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle; Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis; Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia; Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup; and Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn – said they are making a donation that equals or surpasses the full cost of their two tickets.

Another lawmaker, Republican Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, said he is making two donations of $75 each to the Boys and Girls Clubs to buy down the cost of his and his wife’s tickets.

Guests don’t have to attend the county’s briefings.

“I’m going to be doing that, he gets to watch the Open,” Cody said of her husband. “He’s had to put up with a lot with me being in the Legislature for 20 years. I figure he deserves it.”

Other lawmakers who plan to attend the U.S. Open using the complimentary tickets said they will make donations or have already done so, but didn’t return a reporter’s calls Thursday to confirm whether they are using one complimentary ticket or two.

Those lawmakers included Democratic Reps. Jake Fey and Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma.

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, said last Friday that she hadn’t thought of making a donation at that point, but would happily do so.

Two lawmakers who previously were planning to attend the tournament, Republican Sens. Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup and Steve O’Ban of Tacoma, said Thursday that they no longer plan to go.

Dammeier, who provided a receipt last week showing a $220 donation to the Boys and Girls Clubs, said he will use his two complimentary U.S. Open tickets to send his legislative assistant and another senator’s legislative assistant to the event.

O’Ban, who showed a receipt reflecting a $250 donation to the Boys and Girls Clubs, said he plans to give his two tickets to his brother-in-law.

Another lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Steve Conway of Tacoma, said he only plans to use one of the complimentary tickets provided by the county.

Several lawmakers said their primary interest is in witnessing the logistics of putting on such a large event.

“I just want to see how it works,” Fraser said. “I don’t expect I’ll spend much time watching the golf players play golf.”