As Hamilton continues its dominant run across American theatre and culture at large, the musical also continues to spark headlines and minor controversy wherever it goes. Whether it’s outrageous prices for Hamilton tickets on both the primary and secondary market, insider back-doors programmed to allow certain individuals to access tickets early, or venues threatening patrons about resale, there’s never a dull moment surrounding Lin Manuel Miranda’s work. This week, it’s an expose in the Los Angeles Times about potentially unethical gifts from the operators of that staging to local politicians stirring the pot on the ever-fascinating saga of the best-selling musical.
Hamilton came to the Pantages Theatre last year, and as has so often been the case, fans spent hours in line or thousands of dollars to see the musical. Exempt from those requirements for seeing the show, apparently, were local government officials. They were offered a free pair of tickets to opening night, which some accepted happily, others declined, and a handful requested even more.
Two issues, however: The tickets value, depending on how you would like to assign it given the ultimately meaningless nature of face value for such a show, definitely exceeded a $470 annual limit on gifts elected officials are allowed to accept, even if they just took the initial pair. More importantly, they FAR exceeded the $100 elected officials are allowed to accept from someone engaged in or seeking a business relationship with the city where those officials might be expected to make decisions.
The rules, as the LA Times says “are meant to prevent especially lavish gifts from swaying government decisions or corroding public trust.”
Even if a gift giver is not seeking anything from politicians, gift limits matter because “one of the expectations of public officials is that it’s not a job of being a rock star and royalty — it’s a job first and foremost to help the public,” said Fair Political Practices Commission spokesman Jay Wierenga. “Reasonable people would understand there are some perks to these positions, but they shouldn’t be abused.”
Ned Pan Inc, the owner of the Pantages, officially gifted the tickets. That company is headed by James Nederlander of Nederlander-Greek, Inc., which formerly operated the Greek Theatre, and has heavily lobbied the city to return to that role in recent years. Another related company, Nederlander Concerts Los Angeles LLC, spent $10,000 in December alone on lobbying efforts related to The Greek.
As you can see, the waters are more than a bit murky.
In the wake of the ethics questions raised by watchdogs, several politicians repaid all or part of the value of the tickets to ensure they were within compliance of the guidelines.
Just another day in the life of the most interesting piece of pop culture in recent memory.