Inaugurations are expensive. Really, really expensive.
The peaceful transfer of power comes with a massive price tag: When all the bills are added up, the 2017 celebration will cost an estimated $175 million to $200 million. That total includes the official parties and dinners, the concert, the swearing-in at the Capitol, the parade, the inaugural balls and all the police, military and security personnel required to keep everyone safe.
About $70 million will come from private donations, and the taxpayers will foot the rest of the bill.
This process happens every four years, and every time, critics cry about the extravagance and excess. The truth is that both parties, Republicans and Democrats, spend about the same amount for the quadrennial celebration when adjusted for inflation.
The cost breaks down into two parts: The bills that the Presidential Inaugural Committee pays, and the bills that the federal government, a.k.a. taxpayers, cover.
The committee pays for everything surrounding the swearing-in ceremony — all the glamorous parts of the inauguration. Events this time include a candlelight dinner with the president- and vice president-elect, a lunch with Cabinet appointees, a concert and the inaugural balls. Inaugural packages start at $25,000 and go up to $1 million, which gives VIP donors the most tickets and the best seats.
President-elect Donald Trump’s PIC has not announced exactly how much it hopes to raise, but $65 million to $75 million is a reasonable guess based on past years. No donations from registered lobbyists will be accepted, but corporations can give up to $1 million, and there doesn’t appear to be a limit for individuals. The name of anyone who donates $200 or more must be reported to the Federal Election Commission by 90 days after the inauguration, and any money not used will be donated to charity, said committee spokesman Boris Epshteyn.
Like everything else, the price of inaugurations keeps going up.
For President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, his committee raised a record $53 million in private donations, although the president-elect refused to accept money from lobbyists, corporations or political action committees and limited individuals to $50,000. In 2013, after the most expensive presidential campaign in history, Obama’s committee raised $44 million and allowed corporate gifts and individual gifts of $250,000.
Those numbers are in line with previous inaugurations. Supporters of George W. Bush raised about $40 million for his 2001 inauguration, and $42 million in 2005 for his second; Bill Clinton’s inaugural committees solicited $33 million in 1993 and $30 million in 1997. George H.W. Bush raised $30 million in 1989. The committees for Ronald Reagan pulled together $19 million in 1981 and $20 million in 1985.
The actual swearing-in on Jan. 20 is hosted by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, costs slightly over $1 million and is paid for by the federal government. This includes the construction of the elaborate stage on the west side of the Capitol grounds and the official congressional luncheon for the new president and vice-president. (Tickets for the outdoor ceremony are distributed by the members of the Senate and the House, typically to constituents.)
But the biggest share of the cost, by far, comes from the extensive security network required, transportation and emergency services, and cleanup. The feds spent $115 million in 2005 and $124 million in 2009, according to media reports. (The District, Virginia and Maryland are reimbursed for most of the expenses they incur.)
It’s hard to know exactly how much taxpayers pay, because the total amount includes the salaries for all the local police forces, emergency personnel and federal employees who have Inauguration Day off.
Regardless of who is sworn in as president, inaugurations are a huge boost for the local economy. Between hotels, restaurants, caterers, limo companies and more, the celebration is expected to bring several hundred million dollars to the Washington region, although exact revenue numbers aren’t available, according to Destination DC, the city’s official convention and tourism arm.