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Obama committee to accept corporate cash for January inauguration in Washington

Construction is underway on Nov. 28 on the viewing stand for President Obama's inauguration. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

President Obama’s inaugural committee will accept corporate donations this time around, reversing a policy from four years ago banning such contributions, a spokeswoman said Friday.

The 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee will accept unlimited money from corporate and individual sources but will not accept contributions from political action committees or lobbyists, according to spokeswoman Addie Whisenant. The committee also will not allow sponsorship agreements, she said.

“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,” Whisenant said. “To ensure continued transparency, all names of donors will be posted to a regularly updated Web site.”

Critics quickly pounced on the announcement as another example of the unseemly role that money plays in politics and said the decision was disappointing from a president who has cast himself as a campaign finance reformer.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said the practice gives the appearance that corporate donors will get something in return for their money.

“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.”

Officials with the committee said the events and activities surrounding the inaugural festivities in January will be smaller in scope than four years ago, when nearly 2 million people flocked to the Mall for the swearing-in of the nation’s first African American president.

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 inaugurations such as a ceremony and a parade. But there will be no concert and fewer balls than in 2009, officials say.

The committee said all donors would be vetted, and those not meeting guidelines would be rejected — including recipients of financial bailout funds who have not repaid the loans.

In 2008, the Obama inaugural committee limited individual contributions to $50,000 and prohibited corporate contributions altogether. The president’s campaign committee also initially refused corporate contributions for the 2012 Democratic National Convention but eventually allowed such contributions for certain activities to make up for poor fundraising efforts.

The Republican National Committee — which places no limits on accepting corporate money — accused Obama of flip-flopping on the issue. “Obama has gone from touting his commitment to changing business as usual to nonchalantly embracing it,” the RNC said.

Weissman said inaugural activities should be paid with public funds, and if the events are too lavish for that they should be scaled back. He also scoffed at an inaugural committee official’s claim that donors would be vetted for conflicts of interest: “That would be everyone.”

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, Weissman said.

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