In his newly-released campaign commercial, U.S. Sen. and gubernatorial candidate David Vitter takes aim at the excessive benefits given to elected officials: Health care subsidies, pensions, perks like golf memberships and “college scholarships for their friends.”
Shortly before January 26, 1997, my father Lamar (who passed away only four years later) performed a miracle: He scored four tickets at the Superdome on the ground-level section, around the forty yard line, for Super Bowl XXXI: Hometown boy (or close enough) Bret Favre and the Green Bay Packers versus Drew Bledsoe and the New England Patriots.
My dad won his tickets through a lottery, which meant he paid the face value. As I recall, the tickets were a pricey $325 a piece, but my dad knew it was a special experience, something he’d likely never be able to do again. He brought along his dad and my brother, and I got the seat right next to him. We had a blast, though the half-time show was set up to face the opposite side of the field. The Packers won, and it was the last professional sports game I ever attended with my father.
I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently, Sen. David Vitter was also inside of the Superdome on that brisk day in January. He hadn’t needed to compete for his tickets in a lottery. As a member of the Louisiana legislature, he was just given them from the Saints at face value, $275 a pop, a huge perk of the job. Those same tickets would have otherwise cost Sen. Vitter (had he not been an elected official) at least $2,500.
“David Vitter is famous for taking similarly uncompromising positions in the state House of Representatives,” wrote James Gill of The Times-Picayune on January 22, 1997. “How odd, therefore, that [New Orleans City Council member Peggy] Wilson and Vitter should suddenly experience a malfunction in their ethical antennae. Wilson has snapped up four, and Vitter two, of the Super Bowl tickets that the Saints offered at face value to legislators, City Council members and other elected officials.”
“Whether our trusty watchdogs, on this occasion, are fools or hypocrites is open to speculation, but they are certainly one or the other,” continued Gill (bold mine). “Tickets for this game are so hard to get that the worst seat in the Dome would set a regular Joe back better than a grand. To accept them at $275 each is to profit handsomely from public office.”
Super Bowl tickets aren’t the only perk of the job that Sen. Vitter has taken full advantage. During his gubernatorial campaign, as Bob Mann of LSU and The Times-Picayune has extensively documented, Vitter has consistently abused the Senate’s franking privileges in order to disseminate campaign materials. In fact, at one point, the Vitter campaign even cut a check to the Senate for stationery costs.
So what, though? David Vitter scored cheap tickets to the Super Bowl nearly two decades ago, just like my own dad (though Vitter came across his less honestly)? And so what? His campaign is using their Senate office’s stationary on campaign-related activities. Also, probably an ethics fine, but ultimately not that big of a deal.
However, Sen. Vitter is also gloating about his attempts to limit health care coverage for members of Congress and to force them into participating in “Obamacare,” and that’s supposed to fire all of us up. Inspire us. Friggin Obamacare. We’re supposed to believe that David Vitter is holding politicians accountable for all of the perks and the backroom deals that plague our political process, and that because of this, he is the right man to lead Louisiana.
But David Vitter is lying to us.
He pretends to be upset about elected officials receiving pay raises. Well, he never was obligated to accept these raises. And, yes, you better believe it: He’s taken every single dime. How principled, right?
His effort to change the insurance plans of members of Congress won’t save taxpayers any money; but it will severely and disproportionately hurt the low-paid Congressional staffers (and yes, they are low-paid) who rely on the discounts provided through Congress’s group plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield to forgo their group coverage and enter into the individual marketplace (which is inherently more expensive).
In so doing, Vitter hopes to warp and distort our understanding of the insurance marketplace, the nature of the Affordable Care Act, the differences between group and individual coverage, and the truth about the people actually affected. Hint: They aren’t like Sen. Vitter, who brags about how he has already given up his pension. They’re more like Sen. Vitter’s overworked, under-appreciated, and underpaid staff, folks who rely on their health care benefits to take care of their families and look to their pensions in order to plan their futures. There’s no shame in that. It’s the American way. It’s your reward for a job well done.
We should all be thankful to Senator Vitter for deciding to forgo his pension. It’s the most honest thing he’s ever done. If taxpayers are to help subsidize your pension, you should at least show up to work for it.
David Vitter, the least effective member of the entire United States Senate, hasn’t earned it. If he had, it’d probably be much easier to forgive him for getting a steal on those Super Bowl tickets.