The NCAA long has understood the power of its men's basketball tournament. It generates such enormous excitement and revenue, the organization painstakingly protects the trademarked slogan, March Madness.
Merriam-Webster's defines madness as "behavior or thinking that is very foolish or dangerous." Perhaps the most fitting illustration of how basketball fervor can cause very foolish behavior arrived in an email to this office earlier this week. As it was dated March 17, we will classify it as authentic March Madness.
The correspondence came from Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. The Big First's representative apparently came across four tickets for this weekend's tournament play in St. Louis, and he wanted one of his supporters to win them. And who wouldn't want them? The Scottrade Center will feature second and third round games of, among others, Wichita State, KU and K-State.
The tickets are valuable. StubHub, the online ticket retailer, was offering full-strip tickets -- meaning all three sessions -- from $276 to $2,751 apiece. We're not sure how good Huelskamp's tickets were, but four of them would be worth $1,104 to $11,004. And, according to the email, "a (sic) online contribution to our campaign of at least $10 between now and 8 a.m. Wednesday morning will enter you in the drawing." The winner was to be selected at random earlier today.
As a media company that has to watch very carefully how we give away anything, we're a little familiar with state law concerning raffles. The Kansas Press Association regularly consults with the Kansas Attorney General's Office to ensure its members don't go astray legally when offering, say, a gift of some kind when soliciting new subscriptions.
The most recent information from the AG offers: "In Kansas, lotteries or 'raffles' are illegal both by statute and the Kansas Constitution (with the exception of the official state run lottery games). Under Kansas law, a 'lottery' is defined as an enterprise in which a prize is awarded on the basis of chance for which consideration (usually money) is given. Thus, an individual or an organization may not require tickets be purchased for a chance to win a prize in a random drawing."
The same opinion does offer a way around the law by eliminating the element of consideration: "The organization may request, but not require, a donation from a person to participate in the drawing."
As no wording to this effect was present in Huelskamp's email, we solicited legal advice from Mike Merriam. The Topeka lawyer does consultant work for the KPA and is familiar with the ins and outs of raffles and lotteries.
His take on the politican's offer was succinct. "This is illegal," Merriam wrote.
Apparently others alerted the campaign headquarters of the murky waters it was in. A followup email on Tuesday repeated the offer with somewhat begrudging additional language.
"The Left is up in arms that a Congressman from Kansas would seek to encourage Kansans to cheer on their basketball teams; meanwhile, it is just fine for President Obama and his reelection campaign to raffle off a $35,800 date with George Clooney.
"So in order to make the attorneys happy -- here's what you need to know. You can make a suggested voluntary contribution of $10 -- or any amount from $0 to $2600 -- and participate in this random drawing for 4 tickets to watch the Wildcats, Shockers and Jayhawks in the 2014 tournament!
"No purchase, payment or financial contribution of any kind is necessary to win this promotion. All contributions are strictly voluntary. ... Making a contribution will not improve chances of winning."
We suppose it's better late than never to make it legal. While mere mortals would face fines and reminders that ignorance of the law is not an excuse, Huelskamp's minions obfuscate their misstep with potshots at the president.
Thumbing their noses at pesky documents such as the Kansas Constitution likely will increase the donations solicited with this email. It does nothing, however, to raise the confidence level that Rep. Huelskamp is interested in anything besides himself and his pursuit of re-election.
March Madness, indeed.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry