Jerry Brown One of Many Politicos Taking a Pass on Super Bowl 50

Dummy tickets for a past Super Bowl, which also was not attended by Bay Area politicians.  (Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

This weekend's Super Bowl 50 is more than just a big football game. It's also an international cultural event, a place to rub elbows with the rich and famous and be seen on national television.

We know Warriors star Stephen Curry will be there cheering on his buddy, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. And I assumed it would also attract a big list of local politicians. So I checked around, starting at the top.

"The governor is not planning to attend the Super Bowl," wrote Jerry Brown's press secretary, Evan Westrup, in an email. I pressed him.

"'Not planning' -- how firm is that?" I asked.

"Pretty firm. His sport is politics," Westrup quipped.


What about Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom? He's giving away two 40-yard-line tickets to two lucky donors to his campaign for a gun control ballot measure.

"His schedule is still TBD for Super Bowl Sunday," said spokesman Rhys Williams. I'm betting Newsom goes. But for the most part, local elected officials seemed indifferent to the prospect of attending the game.

Sen. Barbara Boxer? "It could be a last-minute thing," said her press guy, Zachary Coile. "But I haven't heard anything about it."

Dianne Feinstein? "The senator will be in Washington this weekend," said communications director Tom Mentzer.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's office claims the mayor hasn't decided what he's doing Sunday.

Here's what I heard from San Francisco supervisors:

Mark Farrell: "I’m not going – I coach my daughter’s basketball team and we have a game in the middle of the Super Bowl.  Family first."

Scott Wiener: "I'm not attending. I'll be watching on TV, most likely at a bar."

Aaron Peskin: "Not going, nor do I have any tickets."

Jane Kim, who's gotten a lot of attention (and plenty of criticism) for trying to force the NFL to reimburse the city for the cost of police services: "Not attending," her staff wrote. "She'll be working in the district."

By working, she might mean campaigning -- Kim is running against Scott Wiener for the state Senate seat being vacated by Mark Leno.

South Bay congresswoman Zoe Lofgren's office at first said they thought she was going, but then aide Peter Whippy emailed back to say "she has some other plans that day after all so isn't planning on being there."

Even Jamie Matthews, mayor of host city Santa Clara, says he's not going. "I'm not that into football," he says. "There's only 75,000 seats at the stadium, so why take one up when so many who really want to go can't get a ticket?"

The only elected official who acknowledged she'd be going was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

So what's going on? Well, first of all, while the game is in the San Francisco Bay Area, no local team is playing.

Then there's the cost.

"When you look at the price of Super Bowl tickets, it would be hard to imagine a ticket being given to a public official that meets the limits of the law," said LeeAnn Pelham, executive director of the  San Francisco Ethics Commission.

"In general there are a lot of restrictions in state and local law," she said. And at $3,000 and up, a free Super Bowl ticket clearly exceeds the gift limit of $460.

There are exceptions, Pelham notes. For example, you could be there in an official role, like throwing out the first pitch at a World Series game, or tossing the coin to determine who kicks off and who receives. Little chance a politician will do that, however, and it's not the big loophole you might imagine.

"It's not that you can show up and shake a few hands," says Pelham. "There has to be some ceremonial role that's the focus of the entire crowd for a few moments."

Of course elected officials and government workers are supposed to report all gifts, but they don't always.

There's also the issue of appearances. In this era where income inequality is the focus of so much attention, attending a pricey game while homeless protests or Black Lives Matter actions are happening might have, as political consultants say, "bad optics."

One person who won't be put off by political considerations or cost? Willie Brown.

"I have a ticket and I bought two others anticipating somebody coming in from the East Coast," Brown told me. "I didn't intend to go, but I may end up having to go because I'm not gonna be seen on StubHub hustling tickets."

The former mayor and current power broker isn't surprised politicians aren't going.

"Going to a Super Bowl is really a chore," said Brown. Traffic, long walks to the restroom. And you can't really see much.

In any case, Brown said, "The real Super Bowl are all the great parties that are being put together by corporations and others. I'm going to try and make more than one -- I would never go just one place. If you know anything about me, you know I want to be seen."

On a lark, I checked with the office of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

"Archbishop Cordileone is holding an annual pre-Lent spiritual retreat" with other bishops in the region this weekend and won't attend the Super Bowl, said Mike Brown, spokesman for the archdiocese of San Francisco.

"This is not to say that a big screen might not be rolled in for the game," he added.