Inaugural Committee Millions Short of Goal, Despite Pivot on Corporate Cash

Lack of enthusiasm, money trip up Obama's second victory lap.

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As they did for the 2012 Democratic Convention, diminished enthusiasm and leaky campaign finance rules are plaguing President Barack Obama's upcoming presidential inauguration.

With less than a week left before the president is sworn in again, the inaugural committee is short millions despite having nixed the cap on donations and the ban on corporate giving that were in place for the 2009 inauguration.

And not only is the fundraising falling short, but so are numerous ethics and transparency measures that were present the first time around. The administration's $50,000 cap on donations, its ban on corporate money, and its detailed donor database have all gone by the wayside.

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Robert Weisman, president of Public Citizen, which has collected 30,000 signatures for a petition opposing corporate sponsors for the event, says CEOs want their calls returned and a friendly atmosphere, so spending the money is a worthwhile investment.

"Corporations are going to fund inauguration festivities because they expect something back in return — it's not a matter of bribery, but it is a matter of expecting access," Weisman says.

Eight corporations have given thus far. Microsoft, AT&T, electric utility Southern Company, and several others, all with sizable lobbying presences on the Hill, have contributed.

"What makes this extra disappointing is that 2009 marked a turning point [in inaugurations]," Weisman says. "Obama decided he wouldn't accept corporate money precisely because of these concerns about access."

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Though there is no law governing inaugural contributions, the past four inaugurations have all raised money using self-imposed caps. To that end, the president's inaugural committee has maintained its transparency measures go further than the law requires.

"Our guidelines aren't just consistent with the law—they are consistent with the president's commitment to transparency and to reducing the influence of PACs and lobbyists in Washington," the committee said in a statement. "In fact, President Obama is the only president who has refused to accept donations from PACs and lobbyists for his inaugural committee and put in place the most robust disclosures for his inaugural committees, which include regularly posting donors to a website."

But how much each donor or corporation donates is unknown, as the fundraising transparency present in 2009 has also diminished. This year's donors can be found in a list which includes only their names, while in 2009 the donation amounts, locations, and employer information of donors were provided in a searchable database. Of the names that do appear on the list, at least 30 have visited the White House for private meetings or parties in the past, according to the Associated Press.

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The event also lacks the tremendous small-donor support and enthusiasm that buoyed the 2009 celebration, when nearly two million Americans flocked to Washington, D.C. Rentals in the area are down 50 percent from 2009 levels, and city officials expect a drop of more than 25 percent in public transit ridership, U.S. News reported.

In 2009, an estimated 21,000 people gave the $200 or more required to make the inaugural committee's database, and the overall inauguration fundraising exceeded its $45 million target by nearly $8 million. By comparison, this year only about 1,000 donors appear on the donor list and the committee is about $8 to $10 million short.

Gone also are the big-name supporters who chipped in checks up to the $50,000 limit in 2009, which included Hollywood heavyweights such as Steven Spielberg, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, and Sean Combs, as well as finance titans like George Soros, according to the Boston Globe.

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The mega-donors that helped Obama's re-election campaign raise more than $1 billion are also noticeably absent from the list of inaugural donors, causing tension between top donors and the administration, according to the New York Times.