A good night to watch football for free! Photo credit: Andy Clayton-King/AP

The Minnesota Legislative Auditor has released an extensive special report on the use of luxury suites at the publicly funded Minnesota Vikings stadium by commissioners of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, finding that commissioners “violated a core ethical principle” when they gave free tickets to friends and family and the Authority “failed to comply with state law by not maintaining a record of who received tickets to its stadium suites.” The Legislative Auditor recommended the “enactment of laws to control the use of complimentary tickets at all sports and entertainment facilities built with public money.”

Back in November, we aggregated the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s excellent reporting, that revealed Authority members and the executive director controlled two luxury suites at the Minnesota Vikings’ recently completed stadium, as well as free food and sometimes free parking, ostensibly to use for “marketing purposes.” Equivalent luxury suites sold for between $200,000 and $300,000.

The Authority’s claim that it needed the use of two full suites for marketing purposes was belied by the fact that “the Authority gave a significant number of free suite tickets to people who had no connection to marketing the stadium.” Further, when the Legislative Auditor attempted to obtain a list of the people who attended events in the suites and whether or not they paid for their tickets—information the Authority is required by state law to keep—the list received “was poorly compiled, confusing, and incomplete.” The Legislative Auditor concluded that the claim that the Authority needed the use of both suites for marketing purposes “is not supported by facts or logic.”

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The Legislative Auditor found that Authority members did not violate the state’s gift laws, as they aren’t subject to them in the first place. But they did “violate a core ethical principle,” as well as failing to heed “this common ethical guidance” of avoiding ethical impropriety, or even the perception of impropriety.

These findings led to four recommendations from the Legislative Auditor:

  • The Legislature should enact a law to control the Authority’s use of complimentary tickets to events at the U.S. Bank Stadium.
  • The Legislature should consider enacting a law that would allow one or both of the Authority’s suites at the [Vikings stadium] to be used for nonprofit charitable purposes.
  • The Legislature should exercise more oversight of the Authority.
  • The Legislature should consider enactment of laws to control the use of complimentary tickets at all sports and entertainment facilities built with public money.

The Star Tribune reports that a state legislator will soon introduce a bill to “expand the ban on gifts for public officials to prohibit individuals or private associations from giving preferential admission for events held in publicly owned facilities.”