After the most expensive election in American history that made “bundlers” and “super-PACs” household terms, President Obama’s second inauguration is shaping up to be a a celebration of the big money that propelled his reelection campaign as well as the failed bid of his Republican challenger.
Final fundraising totals for the 2012 race overwhelmed even the most aggressive predictions of how much cash would be infused into this year’s hotly contested presidential contest. Obama vs Romney was the most expensive presidential campaign ever; each candidate raised over $1 billion, while the tens of millions independently spent by wealthy financiers will likely never be accurately calculated.
President Obama beat GOP nominee Romney in the final money haul with a whopping finally tally of over $1.1 billion, exceeding his campaign’s early goal of running a billion-dollar reelection machine. Now the White House and the president’s campaign team are prepared to fete the rich donors and supporters that contributed to his record money grab in 2012 through a controversial flip-flop on inauguration festivities.
The president’s official inauguration committee has announced that they will be accepting unlimited contributions from corporations and wealthy individual donors to cover the cost of properly kicking off Obama’s second term in office.
In a nod to the outside groups that dominated 2012′s political spending, the inauguration committee acknowledged that “fundraising requirements” in the wake of the “most expensive presidential campaign in history” warrants the solicitation of party cash from the rich and special interests.
President Barack Obama’s inauguration committee will accept unlimited corporate contributions to fund its January festivities, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee confirmed to The Huffington Post on Friday.
“To help cover the cost of the public events, the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee will be accepting contributions from individual and institutional donors in compliance with the laws governing contributions to an Inaugural Committee,” said spokeswoman Addie Whisenant. “The PIC will not be accepting donations from lobbyists or PACs and will not be entering into any sponsorship agreements with individuals or corporations.”
“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,” said Whisenant. “To ensure continued transparency, all names of donors will be posted to a regularly updated website.”
With the inauguration only weeks away and most of the necessary cash to pay for it being raised right now, there is no indication the White House is working to reveal corporate donors and who is paying for special access before the events actually occur.
The Obama tram’s play for unlimited inauguration contributions marks a “dramatic reversal” from President-elect Obama”s position in 2008. Weeks after completing what at the time was the single most expensive campaign in history, the president’s inauguration committee imposed strict caps on all contributions and banned outright any money from corporations, lobbyists or PACs.
The 2008 event was billed as a step to “change business as usual” in Washington. No such sweeping goals are evident in the decision to court corporate cash in 2012, when a stand against money in politics could have had a far greater effect following this year’s record setting race.
Reversing his earlier stance, President Obama will accept corporate money to pay for his second inauguration, the event’s organizers said Friday.
“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,” Addie Whisenant, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said in an e-mail.
The committee will not accept money from lobbyists or political action committees and will publish the names of donors to a website “regularly,” she said.
The decision marks a dramatic reversal from his first inauguration when Obama banned corporate, lobbyist and PAC donations and imposed a $50,000 cap on other contributions. At the time, spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama banned corporate money and imposed other restrictions to “change business as usual in Washington.”
The inaugural comes on the heels of a record $2 billion presidential campaign in which Obama received more than 4 million donations. The president refused money from PACs and federal lobbyists in the campaign. He also banned lobbyists and corporate contributions to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, which struggled to raise funds.
Now that the funnel of corporate and special interest cash is open for Obama’s second inauguration, businesses and wealthy individuals are rushing to take advantage of the exclusive packages that the president’s committee has prepared for especially dedicated supporters.
Taxpayers are only on the hook for the actual swearing-in; the rest of the familiar pomp and circumstance of inauguration day is covered by private contributors. With no limits on who can give or how much can be given, everything from the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the litany of official balls and parties is up for grabs in an orgy of political influence open to the top bidder.
President Obama’s finance team is offering corporations and other institutions that contribute $1 million exclusive access to an array of inaugural festivities, including tickets to a “benefactors reception,” a children’s concert, a candlelight celebration at the National Building Museum, two reserved parade bleacher seats and four tickets to the president’s official inaugural ball.
The offerings are detailed in an online inaugural fund-raising solicitation provided to The New York Times by an Obama fund-raiser. The document describes four packages that Mr. Obama’s finance team can sell, with differing levels of access depending on the level of contribution. Individuals who contribute $250,000 will receive the same package as million-dollar “institutional donors,” which could include corporations, philanthropies, foundations and unions.
The online solicitation, sent to donors by e-mail on Friday, described the different inaugural packages, each named for a president: Washington ($1 million from institutions and $250,000 from individuals); Adams ($500,000 from institutions and $150,000 from individuals); Jefferson ($250,000 from institutions and $75,000 from individuals); and Madison ($100,000 from institutions and $10,000 from individuals).
Corporations and billionaires footing the bill for lavish inauguration festivities that grant them exclusive access to the president is nothing new in Washington. Several reports note the excesses of George W. Bush two inaugurations, with corporate donors like The Home Depot and Pfizer contribution a quarter of a million dollars.
There is also no reason to assume that anything would be different this coming January if Republican Mitt Romney and his even larger pool of rich backers had prevailed in the election.
But campaign spending and government watchdog groups are especially disappointed at the major step back Obama has taken since first taking office. After setting a reasonable example of transparency in 2008, the president will now preside over one of the most corporate-laden and financially unregulated inaugurations in the nation’s history.
“The administration asks to be judged in comparison to Bush, saying their record speaks for itself,” the Sunlight Foundation’s John Wonderlich said of Obama’s record on transparency. “At some point, though, it’s time to judge Obama in his own words. Obama said unlimited donations sully our democracy, threaten public service, and weaken representation – and has now chosen to embrace them.”
The group Public Citizens released a statement condemning the decision, noting that they and thousands of other Americans had prevailed on President Obama to reject corporate funding and prevent “an inauguration brought to them by Bank of America.”
Today’s decision by President Obama to accept corporate funding for inaugural festivities is deeply disappointing. The American people have a right to expect something other than an inauguration brought to them by Bank of America.
That the corporate-funded inaugural festivities will fall on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, is not just ironic given President Obama’s stated support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision holding that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on elections, it undermines the case for corporate-free elections.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has stated that it will not accept funds from lobbyists, foreign corporations, TARP recipients that have not repaid their government loans or others that do not pass its vetting process. But every corporation’s donations create a conflict of interest, because they all have business before the government in one way or the other. The problem with donations from lobbyists is that they expect something in return for their contribution. The situation is exactly the same with corporate contributors, virtually all of whom employ lobbyists.