Following the first of a series of controversial votes to approve public funding of a new Atlanta Braves stadium, Cobb County commissioners got goody bags from the Braves. The bags contained Braves apparel, according to disclosure forms filed with the state ethics commission– valued by Commissioner Lisa Cupid at $300. Commissioner Bob Ott valued his at $245.
“It had like a baseball cap, a shirt, a jacket and then like a Braves jersey with my name on the back,” said Ott. “It’s not uncommon. We receive a lot of things and in general, what I do is, I give ’em away.”
The best part of the article, on the WXIA-TV website, is how Ott says he gave away everything except the personalized jersey, because “I don’t want anyone to have the perception that I’m taking gifts.”
This may well be common practice — in fact we know it is, as witness the free Oakland A’s hats the Oakland Coliseum Authority got yesterday for approving that team’s lease extension — but if so that’s only all the more disturbing: Needless to say, critics of the Braves stadium didn’t have personalized Governmental Transparency jerseys to hand out if the commissioners had voted their way. And while elected officials almost certainly don’t tailor their votes just in order to get swag, the swag has a corrupting effect nonetheless: Teams that can offer personalized jerseys, or luxury boxes for governmental use, or selfies with famous people are more likely to be taken seriously as important people who matter, which is exactly why there are disclosure rules about such things. Though when the recipients don’t even have the decency to be embarrassed about it, you have to wonder if disclosure is penalty enough.