President Obama's inaugural committee will accept corporate donations this time around, reversing a policy from four years ago banning such donations, a spokeswoman said Friday.
The 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee will accept unlimited money from corporate and individual sources but will not accept contributions from PACs or lobbyists, and it will not allow sponsorship agreements.
"Our goal is to make sure that we will meet the fundraising requirements for this civic event after the most expensive presidential campaign in history," committee spokeswoman Addie Whisenant said. "To ensure continued transparency, all names of donors will be posted to a regularly updated website."
Officials with the committee said the events and activities surrounding Obama's inaugural festivities in January will be smaller in scope than four years ago in recognition of the difficult economic times. The festivities will kick off with a national day of service, as they did four years ago, and will feature some of the traditional activities of past inaugurals including the swearing-in ceremony and parade. But there will be no concert on the National Mall and fewer balls than in 2009.
The committee announced that donation practices are meant to be in keeping with the practices of public-service-oriented civic groups. It also announced that all donors would be vetted, and those not meeting guidelines would be rejected -- including those who have accepted and not repaid funds through the Troubled Asset Relief Fund.
In 2008, the Obama inaugural committee limited individual contributions to $50,000 and prohibited corporate contributions altogether. The president's campaign committee tried to block corporate contributions to the Democratic National Convention, too -- but eventually allowed such contributions for certain activities to make up for poor fundraising efforts.
Critics quickly pounced on the announcement as yet another example of the unseemly role of money in politics. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said the practice gives the appearance that corporate donors will get something in return for
"It’s not a bribe," Weissman said. "There’s no deal cut. But they’re going to expect access and the ability to have their views heard more favorably than they otherwise would be. And that’s not how the system should work."
Weissman said inaugural activities should be paid with public funds, and if the events are seen as too lavish for that, then they should be scaled back.
Weissman also scoffed at an inaugural committee official's claim that donors would be vetted for conflicts of interest, because "that would be everyone."
Weissman also said that the public agrees, noting that Public Citizen launched an online petition a week and a half ago to urge the inaugural committee not to accept corporate dollars, and more than 30,000 responded.