Presidential Inauguration 2013

01.20.13

Who Paid for This Inauguration?

The big-money, big-name donors from Obama’s first inauguration have disappeared—as has most of his fundraising transparency. Lauren Streib on the murky money trail.

Paul Simon and Samuel Jackson are among the 993 individuals and companies to have contributed funds to President Obama’s second-term kickoff on Monday, according to the inaugural committee.

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Preparations at the reviewing stand continue for the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama. He is scheduled to be sworn in officially at the White House on Jan. 20, and again in a ceremonial event at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 21. (Win McNamee/Getty)

Is that Paul Simon the singer? Samuel L. Jackson the movie star? It’s hard to say, because the committee hasn’t released anything about the benefactors beyond a list of names. Four years ago, in contrast, the public got to peek at identifying information (name, employer, zip code) and the amount donated for each inaugural donor, all before the ceremony.

Though he wasn’t under any obligation do so, Obama instituted historic transparency measures for his 2009 inaugural disco. (There is no law regarding inaugural donations, and he isn’t required to release any donor information at all until an FEC filing in the spring.) The funding behind Monday’s swearing-in, however, is surprisingly more opaque.

More than half of the $170 million bill will be footed by federal and local government. The other portion Obama has managed to wrangle from private donors. And in a move that drew some liberal ire, the president has decided that this time around he’ll take corporate cash. But, of course, we’ll have to wait until the filing is released to know how much Microsoft and AT&T, two of the eight companies listed, actually coughed up. (Both companies declined to comment on the amount of their donations.)

To be fair, the White House is still eschewing help from lobbyists and PACs. But campaign-finance reform advocates are less forgiving. “Obama recognized that it was wrong [to accept corporate donations] in 2008 … nothing has changed since then to make it right,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of advocacy group Democracy 21. “There’s no basis for going backwards here except for a triumph of expediency over the proper approach.”  

Multiple calls for comment to the Presidential Inaugural Committee on the reversal of the previous inauguration’s policy were not returned. 

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Meanwhile, even the donor names are a bit boring this year. Bill and Melinda Gates? Missing. George Soros and the rest of his billionaire family? Not there either. Larry Page, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Halle Berry, Tom Hanks? Nope. All these high profile people gave $50,000 in 2009, but are not among the ranks this year. Not even the cofounder of the real estate company that owns the most malls in America, Melvin Simon, is listed.

So perhaps it makes sense that Obama’s camp had to go for some company cash, even if that doesn’t explain the backpedal on transparency—the celebrity cash cows and other major donors may be a bit tapped out. (To note: except for Berry and Hanks, all the notable donors listed above did contribute to Obama’s presidential campaign last year). By The Daily Beast’s unscientific count, only 13 of the 451 people that pledged $50,000 last inauguration (the maximum allowed) donated anything this year, based on a comparison of lists of donor names and records from the Center for Responsive Politics.

“There’s no basis for going backwards here except for a triumph of expediency over the proper approach.”
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A worker attaches microphones for a band before an inauguration rehearsal on Capitol Hill. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

According to spokesman Cameron French, the inaugural committee is on track to secure all the resources needed, though they expect to raise less than in 2009. Last week, fundraisers for the president’s inaugural committee were still reportedly $8 million short of a $50 million goal.

As for Simon and Jackson, representatives of the famous bearers of those names had no comment.