The City Council voted to gut a bill that would have reformed the system under which ticket resellers like Ticketmaster and the venues that use them gouge consumers. All council members voted for the amendments except Carl Stokes (12th District) and Mary Pat Clarke (14th District.) "Basically it was, I would say, 90 percent amended," Clarke said after the council meeting ended. "Those amendments were really a new bill."
Stokes declined to comment. "My colleague pretty much covered it," he said.
Stokes introduced the bill originally but lost control of it last month, when it was taken from his Taxation, Finance and Economic Development committee and placed in the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, which is chaired by Councilman James Kraft (1st District).
"The bill became a regulatory bill. Instead of just a bill about fees," he told City Paper then, before prophesying: "The consumer people better get down there and lobby. If not, there will be no caps [on Ticketmaster's fees at] the end of the day."
That's about what happened.
The nine amendments stretched over three pages, striking out whole pages of the bill including tough anti-scalping provisions, caps on the "fees" companies like Ticketmaster can charge, and disclosure provisions designed to allow consumers to see the real price of the ticket before calling to buy them.
Under the amended bill, ticket resellers need only "reveal the full price at the time of purchase," Clarke says. "So advertising doesn't have to reveal the full price."
In fact the bill requires the advertisement to say only "additional charges may apply."
The amended bill even removes the right of consumers harmed by violations of the law to sue in court—the very thing that led to the (almost) reforms.
Last year a Baltimore man named Andre Bourgeois won a lawsuit against Ticketmaster. He argued that the more than $12 in convenience (and other) fees he paid over and above the $52 face price of the ticket he bought to see Jackson Browne at the Lyric amounted to scalping, as defined in a 1948 city ordinance that prohibited anyone from selling any ticket for more than 50 cents more than the price printed on the front of it.
The city council scrambled to exempt Ticketmaster from the law temporarily while the reform bill was crafted.
The amendments were introduced by City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector at a council committee hearing a couple weeks ago, says Marceline White, Executive Director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. She testified about the bill but says she was told the proposed amendments were off limits.
"I spoke about why it would be important to be able to go to court if someone broke the law," White says. Officials from the Orioles, Ravens, First Mariner Arena and other venues, in White's words, "all spoke about the need to gut the consumer protections."
The committee members voted to pass the amendments, which also repealed the city's anti-scalping law outright.
"There is a clear public policy choice and they made it," White says of the city council members who voted for the amendments. "They've now passed a law that is essentially meaningless."
The only question now, White says "is whether the city is going to be collecting all of the fines the venues owe for violating the 1948 law." She estimates that Ticketmaster could be liable for thousands of $1,000 fines—if City Solicitor George Nilson goes after them.