“They’ve already written their checks and now they come for the celebration,” said David Rosen, a Chicago Democratic fundraiser who serves as a fixer for wealthy donors on their inauguration trips, making certain their schedule is properly packed with the right parties and the most intimate VIP gatherings. “This weekend is a marker in their lives, so they want to be invited to the White House or the small gathering at the vice president’s house.”
President Obama’s second inauguration is smaller, less emotionally powerful and less transparent than the first. There are fewer balls, fewer tourists and fewer details about the money being raised. Four years ago, promising a new openness, the president banned corporate giving to the inauguration, limited gifts from individuals to $50,000 and released a full accounting of donations.
This year, the sky’s the limit on gifts, corporations are good people and the official roster of donors won’t include addresses or amounts for up to 90 days. The list includes companies such as AT&T, Microsoft and Southern Co., a utility that says it gave $100,000. Individual supporters include donors such as Irwin Jacobs, founder of the tech company Qualcomm, who had already given more than $2 million to groups supporting Obama.
Administration officials have said the loosened donation rules were designed to reach out to businesses whose executives felt spurned in the first term and to ease pressure on Democratic donors who feel squeezed dry after the campaign. After the inaugural celebration’s expenses are paid, the remaining money could be used for an Obama foundation that would support his presidential library and other projects after he leaves office.
“It is just the wrong thing to do,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit group that pushes for transparency in government and campaign finance reform. “This is symbolic of doing business as usual in Washington, from an administration that has said it did not want to follow that path. It doesn’t make sense.”
Presidential Inaugural Committee spokesman Cameron French says that although it is taking corporate donations “to make sure we are able to meet our fundraising obligations” without burdening the public, it is not accepting gifts from political-action committees, lobbyists or firms that aren’t current on federal bailout loans from 2009. A committee statement says its “guidelines aren’t just consistent with the law — they are consistent with the president’s commitment to transparency and to reducing the influence of PACs and lobbyists in Washington.”