In reversal, unions, corporations help pay for Obama’s second inaugural

Now this is change you can believe in: After eschewing big-money donations for first inauguration four years ago, President Obama was asking for donations up to $1 million to help him throw the two big inaugural balls.

After winning the 2008 election on a general theme of changing Washington, Mr. Obama promised the “most open and accessible inauguration in history” by banning corporate contributions and placing a $50,000 limit on donations from individuals.

But Mr. Obama’s 2013 inauguration is free from such lofty language when it comes to its attitude toward private financing. The president’s re-election campaign, along with the Democratic National Committee, raised more than $1 billion to re-elect him — a record that has left Democratic donors with a serious case of fundraising fatigue.

Previous inaugural contribution limits have run as high as $250,000, but this year, Mr. Obama is collecting even more from single donations, specifically asking for an unprecedented $1 million or more from each donor.

Mr. Obama’s shift over the past four years has left many campaign finance reform advocates disillusioned.

“You have to be pretty dense not to get the message that after four years, [changing the campaign finance system] is not an issue that the president is spending any political capital on,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Inaugural planners point out that Mr. Obama will not accept donations from lobbyists and political action committees, unlike the practice under President George W. Bush.

Less transparent

But finance watchdogs say both of Mr. Bush’s inaugural committees were far more transparent than Mr. Obama’s second-term operation about the sources of their money.

In disclosing contributions, Mr. Bush’s inaugural planners identified the donors and the amount each gave to the inauguration committee. Mr. Obama’s 2013 inauguration committee website lists just the names of its donors, saying only that they gave more than $200.

“I would say it’s worse than the last Bush administration and the first Obama inaugural,” said the Sunlight Foundation’s Keenan Steiner. “You can’t give them an ‘F’ because they are going above what [federal law] requires. But you can give them a ‘D’ – it’s just so much worse than [their disclosure] in 2008 and 2009.”

This year’s inauguration planners defend their decisions to accept corporate and union cash and post only the names of donors on their website by saying they are doing more than the law requires.

“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,” she continued. “To ensure continued transparency, all names of donors will be posted to a regularly updated website.”

Mr. Obama also has the distinction of being the first president in modern times to continue fundraising for the campaign after the election was over — at least since the late 1970s when the Federal Election Commission was established and started keeping records of such things.

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