The official beginning of Barack Obama’s second term in the White House was in a small and entirely private swearing-in ceremony at noon on Sunday shared with the public only through photographs. Only Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, the president’s family and a few other were present.
Far more grand and befitting the public spectacle of Inauguration Day, the public ceremonies on the steps the U.S. Capitol and the official presidential parade down Pennsylvania Avenue were witnessed by millions on Monday. Among the participants and onlookers were officials and executives with a slew of corporations and interest groups that paid up to one million dollars for some of the best seats in the house.
President Obama’s first inauguration was infused with a spirit of transparency and grassroots independence, even if the actual reality did not quite match the storyline.
For the first time in recent history, no lobbyists or corporate sponsors were allowed to donate to offset the costs of the inauguration celebration, and all contributions were capped at $50,000. The promise was made that the presidency could not be bought.
If 2009 was about giving a cold shoulder to the deep-pocketed establishment, Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration could be considered an ode to corporate power and influence. Supporters of campaign finance reform and anti-corporate activists are voicing their anger at the president’s flip-flop.
Costs for Monday’s public and private inauguration activities are likely to come in close to the final 2009 tally of nearly $200 million, most of it to be covered by non-taxpayer funds through solicited contributions.
Corportae sponsors for presidential inaugurations are nothing new, but for the first time ever, President Obama and his inaugural committee are aggressively seeking big checks frombusinesses and special interest groups eager to court the White House.
Obama supporters and the president’s campaign team are defending the reversal as rooted in “pragmatism”; potential corporate donors were anxious to pay for exclusive events and traditional grassroots contributors were said to be tapped out from the expensive presidential contest of last summer and fall.
Naturally, corporate interests say the president made a “smart move” in gutting all limits to the inauguration contributor list.
Corporations on Friday appeared poised to jump back into the mix.
“It’s a smart move by the president’s team,” one in-house corporate source said, noting there will “definitely be interest.”
“I think most people are going to be looking to take care of their executives and the Democrats in their firms and companies,” Edison Electric Institute’s Brian Wolff said of the change. “It’s just going to enable corporate folks to participate where otherwise they would have to with individual money, and then the interest wanes.”
Sources close to the planning said the decision was born out of pragmatism — organizers have just six weeks to raise tens of millions of dollars to celebrate a victory that Democratic supporters already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win thanks to the rise of unlimited outside money in campaigns this year.
“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.
Restrictions placed on the source and level of contributions present in 2008 and 2009 were eliminated for the start of Obama’s second four-year term. The 2013 inaugural committee were pressing wealthy supporters for donations of up to $1 million.
Besides the obvious exclusive access granted to such six-figure donors is the potential for more long-term benefits from cozying up to the president on his big day. Shelling out cash for Monday’s inauguration is just one facet of the vast and pricey campaigns waged by corporations and special interests to ingratiate themselves with the White House and the federal government.
A report from the Center for Public Integrity finds that corporate donors to Obama’s inaugural — not all of whom have been made public even the day after the actual event — also spent more than $283 million on government lobbying since 2009, a fitting tribute on the third anniversary of the infamous “Citizens United” ruling by the Supreme Court.
President Barack Obama has long vowed to “take on” federal lobbyists, swearing off their campaign cash, curtailing access to his administration, and lately, directing his Presidential Inaugural Committee to reject their donations.
“We’ve always relied on each other, not Washington lobbyists or corporate interests, to build our campaign,” he wrote to supporters after launching his re-election campaign.
While Obama has banned donations to his second inaugural celebration from lobbyists, no such prohibition exists on donations from the corporations that employ them.
Donate they have: Obama’s inaugural festivities Monday are bankrolled by several of the nation’s most powerful corporate lobbying forces, which have collectively spent at least $158.6 million on lobbying since the president first took office, a Center for Public Integrity review of congressional disclosures indicates.
The ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, perhaps fittingly, falls squarely on the third anniversary of one of the most notable political influence developments in U.S. history — the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — which Obama decried as a “huge victory” for special interests and their lobbyists and a “powerful blow to our efforts to rein in corporate influence.”
While we know the names of the businesses and wealthy individuals that will cover the bulk of the inaugural costs — and they include such multinational names as FedEx, Bank of America and AT&T — another controversial shift away from 2009′s transparency has made the exact amounts contributed off limits to the press and the public.
While we know that Microsoft donated nearly $1 million to the Obama reelection campaign last year, and that they are also contributing to the inaugural committee, the amount that the software giant and others spent to ensure close access to the president before and after he takes the oath of office is completely hidden.