House Members Get Strict 198-Ticket Allocation

Posted November 17, 2008 at 6:36pm

Some Members are hoping their red-state colleagues will be able to spare a few inauguration tickets, after officials recently announced that each Representative — whether from Idaho or Illinois — will get 198 tickets.

That allotment is dwarfed by the thousands of requests pouring into some Member offices, especially in the Washington, D.C., area and in President-elect Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), for example, received at least 3,000 requests before her office stopped taking names, while Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has a list 6,000 strong and growing. In Illinois, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) had to stop at 4,000 requests.

A few Members, such as Illinois Republican Reps. Judy Biggert and John Shimkus, have already asked other Members to send any unclaimed tickets Illinois’ way. And Jackson is now drafting a letter asking Republican colleagues for the same.

“In 2004 and 2002, we made our tickets available to Republican colleagues,” said Jackson’s spokesman, Ken Edmonds. “We’re hoping some Members will reciprocate.”

They may have some trouble, though. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), for example, has received more than 300 requests, even though 60 percent of the state’s voters chose Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Members-elect also fretted Monday over how to dole out their tickets after officials announced their allotment during an orientation session.

“That’s not going to work very well for 650,000 people,” said Harry Teague, a Democrat elected in New Mexico’s 2nd district. “But my problem’s not special.”

Marcia Fudge, a Democrat who won the seat of the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), said she had “not a clue” how she was going to fairly distribute her 198 tickets.

“I’m going to go home, sit down with my folks and say ‘How do we do this?’” she said. But she added, perhaps hopefully: “Because the bulk are standing room, people may not want them as much.”

Only 21 of the 198 tickets will be for seats, while the remainder will permit ticket holders to stand inside the security perimeter. Those without tickets will be able to stand on the National Mall — but probably won’t be able to see the new president in person.

Based on the allotment, House Members would collectively receive about 86,000 of the 240,000 tickets available for the event.

Thousands more will be allotted to Senators, who will probably get more than their House counterparts because they represent entire states. In the past, that number has been around 400.

The high demand for the tickets has caused some scalpers to sell them online for thousands of dollars — even though tickets are not yet available. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is keeping them all in a locked room until it distributes them in January.

On Monday, committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to make selling the tickets illegal, with a violation punishable by up to $100,000 in fines or a year in prison. Selling tickets after the event, as memorabilia, would be allowed.

Feinstein has also persuaded eBay and StubHub to prohibit the ticket sales on their Web sites.

She said in a press release that she hopes Congress will pass the bill during this week’s lame-duck session.

“The chance to witness this event should not be bought and sold like tickets to a football game,” she said. “This legislation is meant to immediately stop the unscrupulous behavior of those who obtain these tickets for free and then seek to profit by selling them, often at dramatically inflated prices. This bill also would target those duping the public with fraudulent tickets or promises of tickets they don’t actually have.”