Scarp: We lose when the state plays with the price of fame

Another legislative session, another day for the nanny state. The list of people whom government officials think are incapable of running their own lives now includes state lottery winners.

As Capitol Media Services’ Howard Fischer reported last week in the Tribune, a state House committee recommended approval of House Bill 2082. It would revoke public-record status of the names of winners and declare them secret.

Fischer reported that its sponsor, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said during a House Government Committee hearing that public knowledge of winners’ names will “subject them to perhaps a lifetime of annoyance and harassment by being hit up by friends, relatives, strangers and charities for donations.”

Moreover, Kavanagh said he worries about winners’ personal safety, Fischer reported, saying a winner’s “kids could be kidnapped.”

That so many people participate in lotteries is mystifying to begin with. The astronomical odds of anyone winning seem to be no barrier to large-scale participation. If you think about it, standing on a sidewalk facing the front gate of a Paradise Valley mansion holding a sign reading, “I need a couple of million dollars” might actually have better odds of success, but nobody does that.

But if Kavanagh stood in a convenience-store line with lottery players an hour before a big Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot drawing, here’s the overwhelming answer he’d get from them: Once assured of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in winnings, each would be more than willing to deal with the solicitations of supplicants as the price of massive wealth. Oh, to be so saddled with such responsibilities, they’d muse.

Country music megastar Taylor Swift has quite arguably survived newfound fabulous wealth, despite being a mere teenager from humble origins when it happened, and without a Suddenly Wealthy Celebrity Protection Law to assist her.

So someone that immediately rich would certainly have the immediate wherewithal to check into an opulent resort for a few weeks while setting up his or her new empire.

The simple and immediate desire to get away from a constantly ringing phone or doorbell would be motivation enough for any of us to make sure we quickly hired sufficient numbers of “people” whose tasks would range from family protection to dealing with hoi polloi.

Kavanagh’s bill contemplates the idea that we are not capable of doing any of this, deeming lottery winners as rich fish out of water whom Auntie Arizona has to assist in the function of How to Be Rich and Still Be Happy.

In Fischer’s story, Kavanagh — who said he was motivated by the story of a Powerball winner whose attempt to remain anonymous was thwarted by a public records request — cites other information that is not public record, such as tax returns.

Tax returns, of course, are about money paid to the government, a different matter than one where someone receives money from the government. The public’s interest is much greater in the latter.

Fischer reported that media attorney David Bodney told the House committee that public knowledge of winners is proof the winnings went to their legal and proper recipient rather than, say, somebody’s relative.

That’s what’s great about public knowledge of government conduct: Everybody has it, so it is a bulwark against unlawful conduct.

Moreover, the text of the short bill contains a contradiction. It starts by saying the names of winners would become “confidential” and “not a public record,” but two sentences later it gives winners the option to voluntarily identify themselves.

So if a person comes forward and says, yes, I won, how can the public know that’s true? That first sentence permanently declares the winner’s identity to be “not a public record,” which would continue to keep the state from verifying it. If that “winner” is lying, the real winner may legally continue to be silently anonymous, allowing the falsehood to prevail.

The courts have determined that people give up a portion of their privacy by stepping into the public sphere, and in some cases even when they do so involuntarily, as when someone rushes into a burning building to save a child and the hero’s identity makes the day’s news.

Buying a lottery ticket is a quite voluntary act with the potential, microscopic though it may be, that one might suddenly be in Taylor Swift’s position. No one of sound mind buys a lottery ticket without at least a small hope that it might win. So while actually winning might be a surprise, the possibility of winning and dealing with those who want some of your newfound money isn’t.

To paraphrase what Bodney told the committee in Fischer’s story, if you don’t want to assume the burden of wealth and fame, simply step away from the convenience-store counter, keep your $2 in your wallet, and completely eliminate your exposure to the evils contemplated by HB 2082.


Photo: In this Nov. 29, 2012 file photo, members of the media document store cashier Tanice Stefanich helping a customer at a 4 Sons Food Store where one of the winning tickets in the $579.9 million Powerball jackpot was purchased in Fountain Hills, Ariz. When two winning tickets for a record Powerball jackpot were claimed last month, the world focused on the winners. One, from Missouri, showed up at the newsconference, while the other, in Arizona, chose to remain anonymous. Releasing information on the lottery winners reflects a broader debate playing out in state Legislatures and lottery offices nationwide: Should the winners’ names be made public?(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)