WASHINGTON — The U.S. House is banning its members from accepting free Olympics tickets and passes, but Rep. Chris Cannon is appealing that decision.
"It's under appeal with the ethics committee, and we hope they'll understand these special circumstances with the Olympics; but we'll abide with their ruling," Cannon, R-Utah, said in a written statement.
Utah delegation members say the Salt Lake Organizing Committee had hoped to offer special credentials to members of Congress to allow them to attend some Olympic competitions and events.
Because of inquiries from members about that, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly called the ethics committee, recently sent a letter to members saying they must abide by normal gift limits.
Such rules ban members from accepting any individual gift worth more than $50, and any aggregate of gifts from one source worth more than $100 a year. Of course, tickets to most events cost much more than that. For example, tickets to the opening ceremonies cost $320 to $885.
In developments first reported Thursday by Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Congress, Cannon is arguing to the ethics committee that Olympic passes should be exempt from gift rules.
He argues that rules contain an exception for anything that is "paid for by" the federal government or a state or local government.
The federal government, according to the General Accounting Office, has provided more than $400 million to the Olympics. Much of it has been for security.
However, the original letter from the heads of the ethics committee, Reps. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., and Howard Berman, D-Calif., noted that the provision does "not allow the acceptance of a gift from a government agency where the gift was donated to it by a third party, and the agency is merely acting as a conduit."
It adds, "Please note that the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, like other Olympic Committees, is not a government entity, and thus tickets or admission may not be accepted from the SLOC under this provision."
Another exception in the House gift rules, however, will allow at least the Utah delegation to attend both the opening and closing ceremonies.
In response to an inquiry by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, the committee ruled that the Utah members' attendance there would be part of their diplomatic and ceremonial duties — an allowed exemption — according to Alyson Heyrend, Matheson's press secretary.
She said while Matheson plans to attend the opening and closing ceremonies, he and his staff do not plan to attend other competitions and have no problem with the ethics committee decision not to allow passes to members.
Meanwhile, senators are still awaiting word from the Senate Ethics Committee about whether senators may accept free tickets.
Chris Rosche, press secretary for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Hatch and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, have sought opinions from that committee "about what senators can attend and not attend according to ethics rules."
Rosche added, "We'll abide by whatever ethics decides. . . . In no way are we just trying to get into these events for free."
He said, however, that Hatch as the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee would like to attend a couple of competitions to see how well security measures pushed in part by his committee have worked. He hopes for permission to do that himself, or to send some staffers.