A couple weeks ago, the Associated Press ran a story about U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and his acceptance of freebies. He took ringside tickets worth a lot of money to boxing matches from the Nevada Athletic Commission, which was lobbying him on how much the feds should regulate boxing.
We agree with some of what has already been written about the dispute. Senator Reid says the free tickets would never influence him. He should not put the Nevada public in the position of having to take his word for that. And we agree with some editorial writers who say the issue of Reid’s free tickets is a minor item in the swamp of corruption Washington has become.
But we are even more troubled about what this whole affair says about public servants and their concept of their functions.
What is the state athletic commission doing handing out freebies and promoting boxing in the first place? The commission already has a lousy reputation for getting coffee for boxing promoters. It was undismayed by Mike Tyson raping a woman but got all huffy about his biting a man. Even then, it backed down and let Tyson back in the ring. Its failure to police boxing means a death in the ring is just waiting to happen.
Want to know how far the commission’s reputation has spread? On the other side of the planet, for God’s sake, a British political commentator said about the switch from an appointed to an elected mayor of London, “[T]he mayor’s powers could make him or her as toothless as a Nevada state boxing commissioner.”
The commission needs to learn that its job is to regulate boxing, not to promote it. In fact, the statute specifically forbids its promoting fights.
And Sen. Reid needs to learn a similar lesson about his role in the state’s larger commerce.
Reid responded to the AP story by saying, “Anyone from Nevada would say, ‘I’m glad he is there taking care of the state’s No. 1 businesses'.”
Sorry, senator, we’re not one bit glad.
Even if there were agreement on the strange claim that boxing is the state’s biggest business, it’s not Reid’s job to “take care” of Nevada businesses. Sometimes, in fact, it’s his job to scrutinize business claims, challenge business conduct, put obstacles in the paths of businesspeople if necessary—as Reid did in the case of Honey Lake water peddling.
And Reid can’t credibly do that if he’s taking freebies from a commission that is a cat’s paw for boxing promoters. He is not an errand boy for Nevada businesses. Nor is it reassuring that he tapped the public treasury for $100,000 in pork for a boxing club in Henderson—an inappropriate use of public funds, however worthy the club.
Sen. Reid once had a great reputation both for personal honesty and public policy skepticism. He seemed different from other politicians who could be ensnarled in a web of comps and coziness with wheeler dealers.
He and the boxing commissioners should reassess their roles or take a class in Governing 101.