Corporate Party Favors at the Inaugural Shindig

  • submit to reddit

If you’re one of those who equate the worlds of Washington and Hollywood — the standard joke: “Politics is show business for ugly people” — then a presidential inauguration is the Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards combined, right down to the parties, balls, extravagant wardrobes and goody bags stuffed with swag.

Just check out the online “57th Presidential Inauguration Store“, peddling more tchotchkes than the vendors outside a Justin Bieber concert — from shot glasses, T-shirts and tube socks to an Obama portrait by the artist Chuck Close and a $7500 set of official medallions.

President Obama's 2013 Inauguration store website

President Obama's 2013 Inauguration store website.

The company behind this marketing behemoth — as it was during the 2012 campaign, when at times it appeared the Obama team was running a big box store rather than a presidential race — is Financial Innovations, Inc., which also happens to be one of a handful of corporations donating money to underwrite this year’s inaugural celebration. Its owner, Democratic fundraiser Mark Weiner, was an Obama bundler, raising as much as half a million dollars for the president’s re-election. According to Matea Gold at the Los Angeles Times, analyzing data from the Federal Election Commission, Financial Innovations “was paid more than $15.7 million by two Obama campaign committees to produce and mail campaign merchandise.”

Four years ago, the committee for President Obama’s first swearing-in proudly announced that no corporate cash would be accepted for the festivities, presenting the decision as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.” Nor was money taken from registered lobbyists and foreign agents, non-U.S. citizens or political action committees. What’s more, individual contributions were capped at $50,000.

This year, there’s a new attitude and a new push for dollars — the goal is set at $50 million. The rules against lobbyists, PACs and non-citizens are still in effect, but now, contributions of as much as a million are being solicited from individuals as well as businesses (although you’re banned from giving if you received taxpayer bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program – TARP — and haven’t paid it back!).

“Most of these companies have ties to the federal government. Restrictions on government contractors giving money to politicians don’t apply to the inaugural. They should.”

“Sources close to the planning said the decision was born out of pragmatism,” Politico reported in December. There were just a few weeks post-election “to raise tens of millions of dollars to celebrate a victory that Democratic supporters already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win thanks to the rise of unlimited outside money in campaigns this year.” Nonetheless, as the Associated Press noted, “The changes are part of a continuing erosion of Obama’s pledge to keep donors and special interests at arm’s length of his presidency.”

According to records released by the official Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), so far, fewer than a thousand individuals and only eight corporations have contributed money for the long weekend of parties, balls and ceremonies (On January 17, ExxonMobil announced that it, too, was chipping in, to the tune of $250,000.)

Most of these companies have ties to the federal government. Restrictions on government contractors giving money to politicians don’t apply to the inaugural. They should.

Fredreka Schouten at USA Today writes that among them are:

Telecom giant AT&T, which spent more than $14 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of 2012, [and] has been awarded more than $101 million in federal contracts in the current fiscal year, federal contracting data show. Microsoft, which spent nearly $5.7 million on lobbying, has been awarded nearly $4.6 million in technology contracts with Homeland Security, the White House and several other agencies so far during this fiscal year…

“Another corporate donor, Centene Corporation, manages health insurance programs for more than a dozen states. Those programs include Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance system for the poor, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates insurance coverage will be expanded to 7 million more Americans in both programs next year as the new federal health care law takes effect.”

The other five businesses on PIC’s official list are the aforementioned Financial Innovations, the electric utility Southern Company Services, biotech companies Genentech and United Therapeutics, and Stream Line Circle, which the Los Angeles Times said was “an entity tied to philanthropist and gay rights activist Jon Stryker.”

Southern Company Services, described by the watchdog Sunlight Foundation as “a major lobbying powerhouse,” received stimulus money under the Obama administration’s Recovery Act –a $165 million Smart Grid Investment Grant to modernize electrical infrastructure.

Genentech is an active health care lobbyist in Washington and regularly seeks Food and Drug Administration approval of drugs (just last month the FDA okayed the use of Genentech’s Tamiflu influenza medication for the treatment of infants.)

United Therapeutics seeks FDA approval for an oral version of an injectable drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, a lung disorder. Sunlight’s Keenan Steiner reported, “The company faced a setback in October when the FDA did not approve the new drug. Its CEO vowed at the time to continue seeking approval ‘within the next four years.’”

The next four years? What a coincidence. All the more reason to seize every opportunity to glad hand at inaugural events where there might be a moment or two to slip in a good word as the price for your generosity. United Therapeutics covers its bases. Steiner continued: “The company does not have a political action committee but emerged as a surprising major donor to the Democratic National Convention in September, when it gave $600,000 to the effort, the fifth-biggest donor behind the likes of Bank of America and AT&T.”

But for all this, we only know the names of donors and nothing else — not their location or, most important, how much they’ve given (although Southern Company did tell the Sunlight Foundation that its donation was $100,000). In another departure from four years ago, the committee won’t reveal that information until reports are filed with the Federal Election Commission in late April.

This secrecy had led to speculation as to what the Presidential Inaugural Committee plans to do with any money left over after all the confetti is thrown and the last dance danced. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reports , “Theories range from the claim that Obama is getting a jump-start on funding his presidential library to conjecture that leftover campaign cash will prop up his grass-roots organizing operation, reportedly to be renamed Organizing for Action. Some say that it may even line the pockets of loyal campaign consultants.”

In a recent op-ed, Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, wrote of inaugural fundraising, “Obama’s policy in 2009 bested those of all recent occupants of the Oval Office and went way beyond the law’s requirements. It appeared he’d set a new precedent for higher standards in transparency. That makes the backsliding this year especially disheartening. In fact, by comparison, this year’s process feels like a snub.”

But those with money to buy nice things — or exclusive government access — won’t feel snubbed at the inauguration. Despite reports of corporate and other high rollers offended at alleged aloofness and a lack of perks from the White House during the first term, this time, they’ll be welcomed with open arms. The president said it himself — he likes a good party.

Addendum: The Center for Public Integrity reports on names of new inaugural contributors released over the weekend: “Add Bank of America, Coca-Cola, FedEx and a collection of labor unions to the growing list of powerful lobbying forces underwriting the second inauguration of President Barack Obama — long a vocal critic of the influence industry and corporate political power.

“… Lobbying forces donating to Obama’s inaugural have spent nearly $283 million to influence the federal government since 2009 when including previously disclosed corporations, such as AT&T Inc., Microsoft Corp. and energy giant Southern Co. — a figure likely to grow as the inauguration committee releases the names of more new contributors.”

  • submit to reddit

BillMoyers.com encourages conversation and debate around issues, events and ideas related to content on Moyers & Company and the BillMoyers.com website.

  • The editorial staff reserves the right to take down comments it deems inappropriate.
  • Profanity, personal attacks, hate speech, off-topic posts, advertisements and spam will not be tolerated.
  • Do not intentionally make false or misleading statements, impersonate someone else, break the law, or condone or encourage unlawful activity.

If your comments consistently or intentionally make this community a less civil and enjoyable place to be, you and your comments will be excluded from it.

We need your help with this. If you feel a post is not in line with the comment policy, please flag it so that we can take a look. Comments and questions about our policy are welcome. Please send an email to feedback@billmoyers.com

Find out more about BillMoyers.com's privacy policy and terms of service.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.neal.902 Mark Neal

    Yes, I think it’s disgusting.
    But as Bill said before he took office, “He will disappoint. All Presidents do”.
    I’ll leave the outrage to the Wingnuts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emil.dahlberg.75 Emil Dahlberg

    What about the 45 Corporations that contributed the maximum $250K to Bush.
    I don’t like this either, but put it in perspective and include previous history. Don’t make this sound like it is something new. You are just fueling the fires of the Right Wing radicals.

  • jfester

    Lobbyists run our country, they provide the money to keep the well-oiled politicians running for office. They literally write the laws that they provide the money to pass.

  • Davideros

    It hardly fuels the fires of “Right Wing Radicals” when the immediate response is easily what you’ve just said — they do it, too and on a larger scale — although we won’t know that for sure until the actual figures come out in April. Truth is an antiseptic. Don’t try to keep people from saying it.

  • Davideros

    And one other thing. The point isn’t so much about right or left as it is about about donors giving money who do business with the government. That shouldn’t be, whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge.

  • Elizabeth Crum

    $50mm for a party (the inauguration events). It is wrong. As one inside the “CorpWay,” I can say with some authority that Corporations always trim their “bottom line” at employees’ expense; the corporate jets, the limos from/to the airports, the $80K carpets in executive offices…etc., etc. are never on the table.I often fantasize that politicians, like corporate executives, should set an example to their constituents/employees respectively. In today’s NYT OpEd, it is observed that Pres. and Mrs. Obama are more resigned to carrying out the beltway rituals (turkey pardonings and such). No matter how absurd and costly they are? Mrs. Obama has probably spend a hefty sum on her costume changes, the flowers may run in the $100ks, the champage must flow…. the show must go on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wilbur.clark.90 Wilbur Clark

    I would like to say a few words about gun control and
    the other million laws that have been enacted to force the working class to act
    in a responsible manner. As long as law
    makers continue to enact laws that only benefit wall-street and corporate
    America, the standard of living for the working class will continue to
    decline. Working Americans can no longer
    afford to survive in a responsible manner.
    Most of the working class is caught in a downward spiral of increased
    costs to comply with new laws that treat the symptoms of a declining standard
    of living and not the root cause. The
    intolerable and unjust balance of political power in America has ruined the
    quality of life for the working class.
    Many people have lost hope and have turned to drugs and crime. America needs a labor movement or some other
    vehicle to return power to the working class.
    Gun control is just another measure along our current path towards
    injustice and a police state. We have
    reached a point where radical and harsh words have become a necessity to
    understand the truth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.elgee.5 Pat Elgee

    I love Obama. Four years ago I could not have anticipated that he would be as successful as he has been bringing our country out of Depression. We were diving toward a deep abyss and he not only slowed the downward decent, but brought us to recovery, even in the face of the Obstructionist.

    However, when it comes to lobbyist and corporate money, Mr. President falls short. This is bribery of our highest official in government and the biggest threat to our democracy. In fact, it is no threat, rather it is the current situation. Democracy is gone. Politicians vote as they are told to vote by the international corporations that fill their pockets. They do not care about other Americans, their voters and supporters, the future of the country, patriotism, honor, nor integrity.

    Accepting bribery is treasonous and grounds for impeachment as stated in the Constitution of the United States of America. Obama was the only hope for the future of our democracy.