WASHINGTON - Tickets to President Barack Obama's inauguration are supposed to be free, but they're being peddled on eBay and Craigslist for up to $2,000 apiece.
Congressional offices and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which are both distributing tickets to inaugural events, are trying to clamp down on the black market. So far, their efforts haven't stopped online entrepreneurs.
"These tix are going like hot cakes, and for FAR more than I am listing them for on here," boasted one anonymous seller in a post Wednesday on the website Craigslist.
The seller, who did not return an email from The Associated Press, offered two seats to the Jan. 21 swearing-in at the Capitol for $4,000. Those tickets are supposed to be free from congressional offices. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies issued some 250,000 for lawmakers to dole out however they see fit.
Scalping the tickets is not illegal. But the committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Schumer, says he is encouraging members of Congress to distribute them fairly and to discourage scalpers. Schumer said he conducted a lottery for the tickets his own office received.
"Any constituent who wins tickets in the lottery that my office holds is required to pledge not to scalp the ticket to turn a profit," the New York Democrat said. "When the tickets are released this year, I'd encourage my colleagues in the House and Senate to take similar measures to discourage ticket holders from using those tickets to make a quick buck."
Some members have already seen their tickets — or at least the promise of them — show up online. The actual tickets don't get handed out until a few days before the inauguration.
The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reported that one seller on Craigslist offered two tickets for $2,000 "from Senator Nancy Pelosi's office." The ad, which erroneously listed Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, as a senator, has since been taken down.
Pelosi's spokesman, Drew Hammill, said her office is taking steps to ensure none of its tickets are scalped.
"Our office has implemented a number of procedures to ensure that no one is able to do such a thing with tickets through our office," she said. "We will continue to monitor such websites and ask that any posts be taken down immediately."
Unlike congressional tickets, tickets distributed by the Presidential Inaugural Committee can't be resold without permission of the committee.
Although tickets for the swearing-in ceremony are free, some other inaugural events charge admission.
The presidential committee is sold out of $25 tickets to the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and $60 tickets to one of its two inaugural balls. (Tickets to a second ball, for members of the armed services, are being distributed for free.) The committee says it's contacting ticket brokers and websites where tickets are being sold and asking that they be alerted to scalping efforts.
Addie Whisenant, a spokeswoman for the committee, said tickets to official inaugural events may not be sold, resold or offered for resale in any manner "unless expressly authorized by the Presidential Inaugural Committee," adding that "tickets may be revoked at any time for any reason" at the committee's discretion.
The committee has the ability to invalidate a ticket electronically through its bar code. Whisenant would not say how many tickets the committee has distributed to its events, or if more will go on sale or be distributed.
Even with the warnings, the Internet marketplace is thriving.
Online ads on sites like Craigslist, eBay and StubHub offered ticket packages Wednesday for upward of $4,000 to presidential committee events.
One online supplier said in an ad she wouldn't part with tickets purchased for the inaugural ball but could be persuaded to swap tickets for the Pennsylvania Avenue parade for items such as "a formal dress/gown size 14'ish, ... work done on our vehicles" or even "new bedroom furniture."
The seller, who didn't reply to an AP inquiry, said in the ad she also would take cash.