washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Bush Administration > Inauguration

Expense Draws Wrath, but Not From Charities

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page C01

A peace activist who thinks the money lavished on inaugural balls would be better spent on body armor for troops in Iraq plans to attend the parade and turn his back to protest.

A grandmother of four sent the White House a tongue-in-cheek invitation to hold the inauguration at her house under rented tents, proposing to free up millions of dollars to feed and house the poor.

Donald Smith of the U.S. Capitol Police takes a guard position above construction preparations for the presidential inauguration, which has a reported price tag of $35 million to $40 million. (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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A white-collar Republican who voted for President Bush tried to organize an e-mail campaign expressing disdain at the waste of a party for "fat cats."

"I was just outraged when I was made aware of the amount of money being spent on a party," said Sandra Mikovich-Pogorelc, a manager for a pharmaceutical company near San Diego who e-mailed her disgust to the White House.

"The money could be used for other things. I don't resent anyone who goes. I just feel it's such a waste."

As troops fight in Iraq and relief workers scurry to aid tsunami survivors in Asia, some Americans believe the inaugural festivities for Bush's second term are an unseemly show of extravagance.

On the other hand, people active in charitable giving said the festivities will have no effect on donations; reservists and National Guard members said they are eager to see the president looking so presidential; and local members of Congress said they had received few to no calls from constituents upset about the inauguration expense.

Former president Bill Clinton said the show should go on. "I voted for the other fellow, but President Bush won this election fair and square," Clinton said on "Larry King Live."

"His supporters should be able to celebrate it however they see fit. And I don't think that it will detract one red cent from the money that we will give privately or publicly to this relief effort," he said.

Overt anti-inauguration sentiment is rare. "I think it's because we're in a post-9/11 period, in a time of war," said Jim Bendat, who wrote "Democracy's Big Day," a historical book on inaugurations.

"And we just had this terrible tsunami. There's just a lot going on right now, causing some people to wonder if it's worth spending all this money on a party for someone who had one just four years ago," he said.

Internet blog sites -- many with contributors who are antagonistic toward the Bush administration -- are filled with discussions about the human suffering that could be alleviated with the $35 million to $40 million being spent on the inauguration. Among them was the blog run by Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban, who proposed scrapping the parties and donating the money to tsunami victims. Several sites draw unflattering contrasts between Bush and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who for his 1945 inauguration eschewed a parade and had a few people over for a buffet of chicken salad and pound cake.

Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D-N.Y.) said he has heard grumbling from some of his constituents in Brooklyn and Queens.

"These are sober times," said Weiner, who wrote a letter urging Bush to redirect the inaugural money to equipment or bonuses for U.S. troops. "We have 150,000 troops at war. We have a world recovering from the greatest natural disaster in recent memory. The image that is most troubling is of a president in black tie holding a champagne flute at a time when so many soldiers are eating out of a plastic pouch while getting shot at in Iraq."

But those who would benefit from the redirection of funds aren't complaining. Not a single member has called the National Guard Association of the United States or the Reserve Officers Association of the United States. About 40 percent of U.S. troops serving in Iraq are in the guard or reserves.

"Speaking as a reservist myself, I think it could give a boost to the troops to see our commander in chief inaugurated and speak with full confidence that we'll achieve our goals," said Lou Leto, a spokesman for the reservist association.

People active in charitable groups also are not upset about parties footed by private donations.

"The money for the parties is not taking away from philanthropic dollars that could go to make this community a better place, said Kae Dakin, president of the Regional Association of Washington Grantmakers.

John Hawkins, who runs a conservative news Web log, www.rightwingnews.com, from his home in Charlotte, said his readers chalk the criticism up to partisan bickering.

"We're talking about a tradition that stretches all the way back to George Washington," he said. "The costs are picked up almost entirely by private donors. If John Kerry won, I don't think we'd even be discussing this issue."

Critics of the inauguration bash have said it is the war and natural disaster, not the election, that is driving their outrage.

"The money could go the tsunami fund or to buying armor for our troops in Iraq," said George E. Taylor, a co-founder of the Takoma Park City for Peace Committee and a retired Presbyterian minister.

Taylor believes Bush should cancel the festivities, which he called "extravagant, especially for a second term," and instead hold a "simple swearing-in ceremony." Anything more would be a "sign of disrespect," he said. And that is why he and others plan to stand along the parade route and turn their backs as the procession goes by.

The sentiment is not confined to those who are not Republicans.

"I truly believe that if it could be divvied up, a lot of people could benefit," said Mikovich-Pogorelc, who voted for Bush. "It's just a shame to spend that kind of money to eat and drink and get fatter."

Staff writers Christian Davenport, Tim Dwyer and Maureen Fan contributed to this report.

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