- Washington Guardian - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

After President Obama lays his hand on a Bible and takes the oath of office for a second White House term next month, he will be surrounded by pomp, circumstance and celebration bought and paid for by the very special interests he once vowed to disenfranchise from Washington politics.

Mr. Obama’s decision to accept unlimited-size corporate donations for his second inauguration is a stark departure from his first celebration four years ago, when he banned such contributions and limited individual donors to $50,000 each.

And it will mark the fourth time since 2007 that a champion of campaign finance reform has backtracked on his various pledges to lessen special interests’ grip on Washington.

Just six months ago, Mr. Obama and his inner circle agreed to let the Democratic Party accept millions in corporate cash for his nominating convention in Charlotte, N.C., after his hand-picked Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had vowed not to do so just a year earlier.

And it follows earlier reversals by Mr. Obama on super PACs (he gave his tacit approval for Democrats to embrace the free-spending groups in 2012) and public election financing, which he abandoned for both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns after originally promising to stay inside a taxpayer-financed campaign system that would have imposed spending limits.

His record of flip-flops has longtime supporters of campaign finance reform disillusioned as Mr. Obama prepares to begin a second four years in office.

“President Obama’s decision to accept unlimited corporate contributions for the next inaugural continues the shift away from past pledges to curtail special-interest influence in Washington,” said Sheila Krumholz, the head of the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

“It may well save taxpayers big money in a tight economy, but it’s also yet another sign of how far removed we are from Obama’s promise to end the pay-to-play culture in Washington that made up the backbone of his 2008 campaign,” she added.

The advocacy group Public Citizen has begun an online petition urging Mr. Obama to reconsider accepting corporate donations. As of this week, more than 32,450 Americans had signed it.

Kent Cooper, who served as Federal Elections Commission disclosure chief in the early days after Watergate when Congress imposed election-spending and contribution limits, said Mr. Obama’s decision to accept corporate inaugural donors allows special interests who bet on the losing candidates in the last election to try to curry favor.

“When you are a major player in politics and recently backed the candidate who has lost, you need to quickly reassert yourself as a friend of the winner and try to regain a seat at the insiders’ negotiating table where regulations and legislation are discussed,” he said. “For corporations and large donors who backed Mitt Romney, you would think it would be hard to rebuild that relationship; but it’s as easy as writing another check.

“Although President Obama thought your money was buying influence before the election, apparently it’s fine now to pay for the inauguration parties,” he added.

Taxpayers pay a portion of the inaugural festivities, such as the formal swearing-in ceremony, security and the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. But the rest of celebration, including any inaugural balls and other festivities like concerts, celebrations and parties, are financed with private money.

In 2009, Mr. Obama raised $53 million in private money for his inauguration, when a record 1.8 million people braved the winter chill to see him take his place in history as America’s first black president.

The amount dwarfed the $40 million George W. Bush raised for each of his inugurations or the $30 million Bill Clinton raised for his second inauguration in 1997.

Story Continues →