Sunday, January 2, 2005

Crude, casinos, cars and computers.

This year’s presidential inaugural is brought to you by a cornucopia of American ingenuity, and its donors reflect a Republican Party rich in diversity.

From Ford Motor Co. to Microsoft, underwriters for this year’s presidential inaugural (supporters who have contributed $250,000 each to help defray the costs of the swearing-in, parade and gala balls) include Ray Lee Hunt of Texas, Sheldon Adelson (Las Vegas Sands) and Time-Warner.

Hotels have written checks — the Ritz Carlton ($250,000), and Marriott International ($250,000) — as well as the commissioner of baseball ($100,000) and Blue Cross ($100,000).

According to the official donor list, which is updated each week, donors so far have contributed more than $14 million to make sure President Bush gets a proper party.

But not all donors are Republican.

“I believe the election is over,” said Stan Chesley, Cincinnati trial lawyer and friend of John Kerry who forked over $10,000 to the inaugural committee. Mr. Chesley, a top Democratic fund-raiser who helped garner $1 million for the Democratic candidate in Ohio last year at a $1,000-per-plate luncheon, said Mr. Bush is entitled “to have a proper inauguration.”

“I’m a Democrat second. I’m an American citizen first,” Mr. Chesley said.

The 55th Presidential Inaugural Committee hopes to raise as much as $50 million for this month’s event. Not all of it will come from private donations.

Sales of merchandise will be included in that amount, and every pin, button, T-shirt and baseball cap counts. Still, the committee is not soliciting private donations in amounts less than $10,000; nickels and dimes can be kept for another cause.

The committee, aggressively soliciting funds, updates its donor list every week and, so far, there are 94 names on the list, including Texas oil man and corporate raider T. Boone Pickens ($250,000), who supported the swift boat veterans’ attack ads against John Kerry, and Enron’s former president, Richard D. Kinder, who also contributed $250,000.

Mr. Kinder and his wife, Nancy (a “Ranger” for the president’s re-election campaign who raised at least $200,000 for Mr. Bush), are members of the Finance Committee. His company, Kinder Morgan, is one of the largest pipeline companies in the United States. The company made news when its pipeline burst near Tucson in 2003, resulting in a gas shortage in Phoenix.

Big oil and energy companies contributed an estimated $13.5 million to the Republican Party last year.

As a whole, members of the committee are star moneymakers: Of the 14 names working on the fund-raising side, at least seven contributed $100,000 or more to Mr. Bush’s first inauguration. Ten members were Bush “Pioneers” in 2000 and 11 were Bush “Rangers” during the 2004 re-election campaign.

Together, they reportedly contributed more than $1.7 million to Republican candidates last year. Finance co-chairman Joe Canizaro, CEO of Columbia Properties in Louisiana, (along with his immediate family) gave $285,000 to Republican candidates and $18,000 to the Bush campaign.

Major donors to the inaugural have been divided into “sponsors,” those contributing $100,000 and “underwriters” who donate $250,000.

Among the underwriters are Dell computer king Michael S. Dell, Exxon Mobile Corp., Sallie Mae Inc. United Technologies Corp., and Stephens Group Inc., the Little Rock investment house; Altria, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris, and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson.

The sponsor list includes former Republican National Committee finance chairman Al Hoffman and his wife, Dawn; Dwight Schar, CEO of the homebuilding and mortgage company NVR, and his wife, Martha, and defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp.

The military-themed events will honor the armed forces overseas, and the inaugural money will pay for the venues, bleachers on the parade route, entertainment, fireworks and security costs not covered by the federal and local governments. The budget is expected to exceed the 2001 inaugural, which cost a reported $40 million.

The money not only provides the event but gives the major donors major access to movers and shakers, and many are not shy about lobbying their causes during inaugural week. Although contributions to presidential campaigns have been capped at $2,000, the inaugural is one of the last places big corporations can pull out their wallets and get results.

The money gives the donor “access to work an issue,” said Mike Hightower, vice president and lobbyist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield whose company gave $100,000 to Mr. Bush’s first inaugural.

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