Essential Politics: Can Taylor Swift unite Washington? (2023)


When I tell people that I secured two tickets for Taylor Swift‘s stadium tour, they are shocked.

Getting into her long-awaited “Eras Tour” was impossible for many.

Ticketmaster canceled its general sale for the tour after millions of fans depleted its presale ticket supply. Hopeful fans found themselves stuck in hours-long virtual queues. Many people, including Swift herself, expressed outrage at the company’s handling of the sale. Ticketmaster apologized and blamed the problems on overwhelming demand from bots and fans.

In December, 26 Swifties from 13 states went as far as to sue Ticketmaster in Los Angeles County, accusing the company of fraud, price-fixing and antitrust violations. Ticketmaster has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

The debacle brought new attention to artists and fans’ long-held frustrations with Ticketmaster’s domination of the concert market. It also caught the eye of lawmakers in Washington. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the subject. Lawmakers hoped to better understand the situation and probe what — if anything — the federal government can do to make the ticket-buying process better for consumers.


Will this hearing result in meaningful legislation?

Hello, my name is Erin B. Logan. I cover national politics for the L.A. Times. This week, we are going to discuss antitrust regulation and partisanship Washington knows all too well.


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Why does Ticketmaster reign supreme?

For decades, Ticketmaster was a dominant force in the ticket market. But a 2010 merger with Live Nation Entertainment made the company even bigger.

Today, the combined company controls around 80% of the ticket market and takes home a $750-million annual profit, Times writer August Brown reported Monday. Because Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, either own or have exclusive deals with many top venues, there is little room for competition from other ticketing firms, like SeatGeek and Eventbrite.

As Brown reported, a 2016 study from the New York attorney general found that more than half of the seats at an average show never went on sale to the general public but were instead reserved for presales, artist teams, fan clubs or as perks for certain credit card users.

Millions of Swifties ran into this problem while trying to buy tickets last November. The ticket giant abruptly canceled the general sale for the Eras Tour, saying it was impossible to ensure every fan could get a stadium seat. The frustration online caught the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, which said it would probe Live Nation Entertainment. The debacle also caught the attention of attorneys general around the country. Washington lawmakers took notice too and vowed to dig deeper.

Will Congress actually do anything?

During the Senate Judiciary’s Tuesday hearing, lawmakers littered their remarks with Swift lyrics and lit into the ticketing giant’s top executive. When Live Nation President Joe Berchtold blamed bots for the cancellation of the general sale for Swift’s tour, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn lashed out.

“You told me yesterday you have a hard time distinguishing between a bot attack and a consumer,” said the Tennessee senator, according to the New York Times. “Why is it that you have not developed an algorithm to sort out what is a bot and what is a consumer?”

She added: “But the local power company down here that is not the billion-dollar company you are — they can tell when they’ve got a bad actor in their system. They’ve figured out how to define a bot in their system, but you can’t?”

During the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal called the ticketing giant a “800-pound gorilla” and said the “whole concert ticket system is a mess, a monopolistic mess.” He applauded Berchtold for helping foster bipartisanship.

(Video) Taylor Swift has never really talked politics. Until now.

“I want to congratulate and thank you for an absolutely stunning achievement,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “You have brought together Republicans and Democrats in an absolutely unified cause.”

Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, called for accountability.

“I’m not against big per se, but I am against dumb,” Kennedy said. “The way your company handled ticket sales for Ms. Swift was a debacle, and whoever in your company was in charge of that should be fired.”

He added: “If you care about the consumer, cut the price! Cut out the bots! Cut out the middle people and if you really care about the consumer, give the consumer a break!”

Berchtold noted that artists set the price of tickets, though the company determines the cost of fees, which can make up as much as 78% of the cost of a ticket, according to More Perfect Union, a nonprofit news organization. (About about 25% of my total ticket for her Atlanta show went to fees.)

Brown reported that the ticketing giant actually splits its service fee with venues, artists and promoters. Keeping the “service fee” separate from the listed price makes the ticket seem more affordable while creating the impression that only Ticketmaster pockets that fee, Brown reported.

Brown also reported that there is precedent for federal ticketing legislation. Congress through the 2016 BOTS Act authorized the Federal Trade Commission to levy fines for automated ticket scalping. And in 2019, the Justice Department extended Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s consent decree by 5½ years, mandating they “may not threaten to withhold concerts from a venue if the venue chooses a ticketer other than Ticketmaster,” Brown reported.

In a statement, Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar accused Ticketmaster-Live Nation of being a monopoly and called for change.

“Restoring competition to our markets is about making sure that fans get fair prices and better service,” Klobuchar, who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said. “Concertgoers today should be able to have those same experiences I had when I was in high school — when it didn’t cost very much to just be able to go see a band and remember it forever.”

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(Video) Taylor Swift - Shake It Off

The latest from the campaign trail

—The Democratic National Committee is set to vote next month on President Biden’s proposal to dramatically reshape the first weeks of the party’s 2024 primary calendar, Times writer Arit John reported. Instead of leading with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, presidential candidates would first face voters in South Carolina, then New Hampshire and later Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan. But the odds of that calendar playing out in 2024 are low.

—Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, a liberal firebrand and prominent Latino lawmaker, announced Monday that he’ll challenge independent U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2024, becoming the first candidate to jump into the race and setting up a potential three-way contest, the Associated Press reported.

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The view from Washington

—Documents with classified markings were discovered in former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana home last week, his lawyer told the National Archives in a letter — the latest in a string of discoveries of confidential information in private residences, the Associated Press reported. The records “appear to be a small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former vice president at the end of the last administration,” Pence’s lawyer, Greg Jacob, wrote in the letter.

—Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Monterey Park on Wednesday to honor the victims of one of the three mass shootings that have left her home state reeling this week, Times writer Courtney Subramanian reported. Harris will lay a wreath at a memorial in honor of the 11 people killed by a gunman at a dance studio during a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday night. She will meet with victims’ families and Brandon Tsay, the 26-year-old worker who disarmed the gunman at a second dance club.

—It’s hard to imagine in these times of bitter partisan antagonism, but the top House Republican, Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy, and Karen Bass, the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, are friends, Times writers Melanie Mason and Benjamin Oreskes reported. The next two years will test whether that kind of personal chemistry can still yield substantive accomplishments.

—The Biden administration is planning to announce a decision to send Abrams M-1 tanks to Ukraine, Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson reported. The tanks, long sought by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, would provide the heaviest weaponry yet among the billions of dollars in military aid Washington has sent to Ukraine to help repel a brutal Russian invasion. But given the sophistication, complexity and firepower of the tanks, it could be months or even more than a year before they reach the battlefield and Ukrainian fighters are trained to use the equipment.

The view from California

—When The Times recently polled voters in Kevin de León’s council district, the survey asked respondents to tell us, in their own words, what they have recently heard or read about their council member, Times staff writer David Lauter reported. The poll found that by more than 2 to 1, voters with unfavorable views of De León outnumber those who view him favorably.

—San Diego city leaders want the state to lift a nearly 50-year-old ban on pay toilets, which they say could solve a shortage of clean and safe downtown restrooms that repels tourists and puts homeless people’s health at risk, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The city could afford to install and operate many more secure and well-lighted restrooms across downtown and in other pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods if it could cover some of its costs by charging each user a nominal fee, leaders say.

(Video) Taylor Swift - 22

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s new chief executive, is no stranger to the often contentious and closely watched efforts to remove tents from public spaces and get homeless people indoors, Times writer Benjamin Oreskes reported. Kellum managed and ran many of them. She will now attempt to chart a path for the much maligned joint-powers authority, whose mission and management has been under the microscope in recent years.

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