Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing.
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, took the free seats for Las Vegas fights from 2003 to 2005 as he was pressing legislation to increase government oversight of the sport, including the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada’s agency feared might usurp its authority.
Mr. Reid, who has accused the Republicans of fostering a culture of corruption, defended the gifts, saying they would never influence his position on the bill and was simply trying to learn how his legislation might affect an important home-state industry.
“Anyone from Nevada would say ‘I’m glad he is there taking care of the state’s No. 1 businesses,’ ” he told the Associated Press.
“I love the fights anyways, so it wasn’t like being punished,” added the senator, a former boxer and boxing judge.
Senate ethics rules generally allow lawmakers to accept gifts from federal, state or local governments, but specifically warn against taking such gifts — particularly on multiple occasions — when they might be connected to efforts to influence official actions.
“Senators and Senate staff should be wary of accepting any gift where it appears that the gift is motivated by a desire to reward, influence, or elicit favorable official action,” the Senate ethics manual states. It cites the 1990s example of an Oregon lawmaker who took gifts for personal use from a South Carolina state university and its president while that school was trying to influence his official actions.
“Repeatedly taking gifts which the Gifts Rule otherwise permits to be accepted may, nonetheless, reflect discredit upon the institution, and should be avoided,” the manual states.
Two Republican senators who joined Mr. Reid for fights with the complimentary tickets took markedly differently steps.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona insisted on paying $1,400 for the tickets he shared with Mr. Reid for a championship match between Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins, one of 2004’s most-hyped fights. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada accepted free tickets to another fight along with Mr. Reid but already had recused himself from Mr. Reid’s boxing legislation because his father was an executive for a Las Vegas hotel that hosts fights.
In an interview Thursday in his Capitol office, Mr. Reid broadly defended his decisions to accept the tickets and to take several actions benefiting disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s clients and partners as they donated to him.
“I’m not ‘goody-two-shoes.’ I just feel these events are nothing I did wrong,” Mr. Reid said.
Mr. Reid had separate meetings in June 2003 in his Senate offices with two Abramoff tribal clients and Edward Ayoob, a former staffer who went to work lobbying with Mr. Abramoff.
The meetings occurred over a five-day span in which Mr. Ayoob also threw a fundraiser for Mr. Reid at the firm where Mr. Ayoob and Abramoff worked. That firm netted numerous donations from Abramoff’s partners, firm and clients.
Mr. Reid said he viewed the two official meetings and the fundraiser as a single event. “I think it all was one, the way I look at it,” he said.