The Washington Post

Microsoft, AT&T among corporate donors to inauguration

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama waving as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on their way to the White House in Washington, after taking the presidential oath in 2009. (Alex Brandon/AP)

President Obama will have some major corporations such as Microsoft and AT&T to thank for the festivities surrounding his inauguration later this month, according to a list of event donors released Friday evening.

Obama banned corporate donations for his 2009 inauguration and the Democratic convention last year in Charlotte, but the president announced after his reelection in November that he was removing his objections for this year’s swearing-in ceremony and surrounding events.

So far, however, Obama has received little in return for the policy change. Fewer than a dozen corporations have donated to the official Presidential Inaugural Committee, compared with more than 400 individuals who have given $200 or more. Contribution amounts were not released.

Other corporate donors include Genentech, a biotechnology company owned by Swiss drugmaker Roche; Stream Line Circle, run by billionaire Obama backer and gay-rights activist Jon Stryker; and the Centene Corp., a Medicaid administration company and one of the major beneficiaries of the president’s signature health-care law.

Another donor was Financial Innovations, a maker of promotional products that got $1.8 million in business from Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Donors get access to special briefings and inaugural balls and tickets to the swearing-in ceremony and parade in exchange for their donations. Obama raised more than $50 million for the events four years ago.

Many of the individual inaugural donors were major backers of Obama’s reelection through an independent super PAC that spent millions on his behalf. Irwin Jacobs, the founder of the telecommunications company Qualcomm, gave more than $2 million to the Priorities USA PAC while New York author Amy Goldman, who writes books on gardening, gave $1 million to the group.

For his 2009 inauguration, Obama voluntarily limited individuals to $50,000 in addition to the ban on corporate funds. This time, he kept a restriction only on lobbyist donations while allowing unlimited donations from individuals and companies.

“It’s not worth indebting yourself to corporate interests just to have a big party,” said Craig Holman, an advocate for tighter restrictions on money in politics at the Public Citizen watchdog group. “It’s very unfortunate and quite a reversal of what this president stood for.”

The inaugural committee voluntarily released the list of donors but failed to live up to the standard of disclosure it set in 2009. That year, organizers released the employer and state of residence for each donor, along with the amount given.

“This is just a list of names,” Holman said.

The inaugural committee, which is required to disclose detailed information to the Federal Election Commission only after the Jan. 21 event, said it will continue to update the list that is publicly available on its Web site.

“The Presidential Inaugural Committee is continuing its pledge of transparency for the American people and is taking extra steps to provide the public with ongoing updates about who is donating to the inaugural,” said Addie Whisenant, a spokeswoman for the committee. “In keeping with FEC requirements, we will also make public the final list of donors and the amounts they contributed to the [committee] 90 days after the presidential inauguration.”

After Democrats banned corporate donations for their 2012 convention, organizers had a hard time raising enough money to pay for the lavish affair, using a work-around to solicit corporate money to fund events near the convention site. In the end, the two organizations set up by Charlotte city officials were more than $8 million in debt after Democrats left town.

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