Updated: Ruppersberger, Cummings and the Boss
Baltimore Democratic Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger and Elijah Cummings got spanked Friday by ProPublica, an independent non-profit news organization, for their use of arena skyboxes in DC to raise campaign money.
The report focuses on the use of luxury boxes for congressional fund-raisers when Bruce Springsteen played the Verizon Center last year. It delves into ties between companies that control the skyboxes and their dealings with the committees of politicians who used them.
Ruppersberger, a member of the House subcommittee that funds NASA, rented the box of Alliant Techsystems (ATK), a major NASA contractor, for $7,000 so that he could play host to contributors. ATK's political action committee gave Dutch's campaign $6,000 shortly before the concert, making the use of the skybox almost cost-free.
Cummings, who rented his box directly from the Verizon Center, played host to representatives of firms with business before the Coast Guard subcomittee that he chairs.
Luxury boxes are frequently used by candidates to lure donors--often lobbyists and other well-connected contributors willing to pony up four figures for the privilege.
For many years, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a popular skybox fund-raising venue. It has been supplanted, to some extent, by Nationals Park in Washington, located within walking distance of congressional offices.
But Camden Yards still gets political traffic, in spite of the dismal won-loss record of the Pathet-Os.
On June 8, for example, lobbyists and others with $750 to burn for a ticket ($1,500 if you're a PAC), can go to a fund-raising event at the ballpark, when the Yankees are in town.
The beneficiary? Dutch Ruppersberger's re-election campaign.
If you're a DC lobbyist and Baltimore is a trip too far, Dutch is also renting another skybox at the Verizon Center: June 23rd, for a Carole King and James Taylor concert.
Dutch Ruppersberger's congressional press secretary, Heather Molino, issued the following statement in response to the ProPublica report:
"Congressman Ruppersberger believes we should have public financing for political campaigns. It would do away with the need to fundraise - a part of the job the Congressman hates. Until public financing happens, he has to operate within the current system. Our office followed all of the rules and paid fair market value to rent the box for the Bruce Springsteen Concert. It is the same process as if we rented a room at Martin's West and sold tickets so people could come and have dinner. It is just a different venue."