Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sounded a familiar note this week when confronted with the fact he accepted free tickets to three professional boxing matches at a time when he was working on a law (which later failed to pass) to create a federal boxing commission. The tickets, worth at least several hundred dollars each, did not influence him, he said. He casts votes based on his own convictions. "I am an advocate for what I believe in," he told the Associated Press.
Which makes him sound very much like the Republicans he has been criticizing for unethical conduct, not to mention the members of both parties through the years at various levels of government, including in the Utah Legislature, who want to rationalize taking things for free.
Were the boxing tickets intended to influence Reid? That much seems beyond question. The head of the Nevada Athletic Commission said he wanted to influence Reid and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that there was no need for a federal role in regulating boxing. McCain, incidentally, paid full value for his ticket. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., took tickets to another fight, but he had abstained from voting on the issue because his father was employed by a hotel that hosts boxing matches.
But whether Reid broke Senate ethics rules is a less clear-cut issue. The rules are more lenient when it comes to taking gifts from other governments, but it warns against accepting them when they might be offered to influence a vote.
If Reid really didn't intend to be influenced by the tickets, he should have paid for them to remove all doubt. As it stands now, he has become yet another living example of why it is risky to base a campaign strategy on portraying yourself as more ethical than your opponent, as the Democrats have done with this year's congressional elections.
Boxing isn't Reid's only vulnerability on that subject. He also had close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff that included large donations from some of Abramoff's clients and subsequent actions benefiting those clients.
Again, Reid would say his actions are entirely independent of the donations he receives. But that's what they all say — or at least the ones who take gifts from people seeking favors. All he has done is prove, once again, that questionable political ethics are not related to party.