WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate has passed a bill outlawing the sale of tickets to President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony, which are being handed out for free, threatening offenders with a $100,000 fine and a year in jail.
More than a million people are expected to converge on Washington on January 20 to watch Obama take the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and address the nation.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is distributing 240,000 free tickets for the ceremony, which is expected to attract record crowds. But the tickets are being sold for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars by enterprising citizens.
"The presidential inauguration is one of the most important rituals of our democracy. The chance to witness it should not be bought and sold like tickets to a sporting event," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The legislation, passed by the Senate on Tuesday night, still has to be approved by the House of Representatives. So, with the inauguration less than a week away, it may have little practical effect.
"My hope is that the House takes up and quickly passes this legislation so that we can stop scam artists and profiteers from tarnishing this important event," Feinstein said.
Craigslist, the popular Internet classifieds listing service, has numerous ads for the tickets, while online ticket broker greatseats.com is offering them for up to $3,000 each.
Greatseats.com owner Danny Matta criticized the bill, saying it ran contrary to the spirit of capitalism.
"There are people who want to sell the tickets and there are people who want to buy them. This law does nothing but hurt people," said Matta, who has set up a kiosk in Washington's Union Station to sell tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, the parade and inaugural balls.
He said if the bill became law he would stop selling tickets to the swearing-in ceremony.
In November, online auction site eBay announced it would not allow the sale of ceremony tickets.
Reporting by Ross Colvin; Editing by Eric Beech