We need your help.
We need to know which members of Congress are attending this year's Super Bowl, and how they got their tickets. Would you help us call all 535 members of Congress this week and ask their staffers two questions: Did the lawmaker go to the Super Bowl last year, and is she or he planning to go this year? You can find the phone number of all members on this page, plus calling instructions. As answers come in, we'll plug them into our online chart and our reporters will begin following the money trail.
The Super Bowl is America's most expensive sports spectacle, and it has long been used to rub shoulders, gain influence and form ties that help congressional candidates raise the approximately $1 billion they spend on their campaigns every two years. While most of us can't afford a ticket to the Super Bowl, we know the NFL sets aside a large number of them for public officials and corporations to buy at face value (the cheapest tickets are going for as much as $1,799 on StubHub). Politicians use the tickets to reward big donors, and corporations use them to reward politicians.
The stakes are extraordinarily high this year. The resurgent Republican Party victory in Massachusetts last week raises the likelihood of yet another record-smashing year of campaign fundraising in advance of congressional elections this fall. Last week's Supreme Court ruling, which allows corporations and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on ads for or against sitting members of Congress, also will trigger a spending spree.
OK, but why do we need your help?
We're running short on time.
In the next two weeks we need to find out which members of Congress will be watching in the stands -- or perhaps peering down from skyboxes -- and then figure out how those members got their tickets. Being a lawmaker's constituent, or a local or state reporter, will get you answers a lot faster than if we were doing the asking.
The NFL -- which is a special interest, like any other -- won't tell us how many tickets it has set aside for politicians, let alone who got them. All we could squeeze out of the NFL was one sentence from NFL lobbyist Jeff Miller: "We respond to requests to purchase Super Bowl tickets from a wide array of groups, including sponsors and other business partners, members of the news media, elected officials and fans."
We also tried to get information from the political party committees that often organize fundraisers around popular events. For instance, the National Republican Congressional Committee got face-value tickets from the NFL and used them to reward their big donors for 10 years running.
Unfortunately, the major party committees are refusing our requests for information about this year's Super Bowl. In the past month, ProPublica reporter Marcus Stern asked the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, NRCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about the Super Bowl events they're planning. Only one -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- got back to Marcus, and said it had no events scheduled.