Jan. 14, 2009

The Presidential Inauguration, Brought to You by the Few, the Wealthy

Obama Bans Corporate Funding, But Nearly 80 Percent of Contributions Have Been Raised by 211 Wealthy Donors, Many From Wall Street

WASHINGTON, D.C. - President-elect Barack Obama has banned corporate and lobbyist funding for his historic inauguration, but that has not kept special interests from picking up the tab, according to a Public Citizen analysis. Nearly 80 percent of the $35.3 million raised to date by the Presidential Inaugural Committee has come from just 211 individual "bundlers."

"Bundlers" are well-connected fundraisers, frequently corporate executives, who collect checks from colleagues or other associates, deliver them to a fundraising committee and receive credit for raising the money. Obama has voluntarily banned direct contributions for his inaugural committee from corporations, lobbyists, political action committees and unions. But the committee is accepting individual contributions of up to $50,000 and bundled amounts of up to $300,000.

Obama’s 211 inaugural bundlers account for $27.6 million of the $35.3 million raised to date. More than half the inaugural bundlers also served as bundlers to the Obama campaign, according to Public Citizen’s analysis.

The strictest self-imposed limit on inaugural fundraising in recent history was during President Clinton’s second inaugural, in which he limited contributions to $100 per donor. However his inaugural committee sold ball tickets for up to $3,000, and Clinton tapped into $9.9 million left over from his first inauguration.

Many prominent Wall Street executives have bundled large amounts for the inauguration, including:

• Louis Susman, vice chairman of Citigroup Corporate and Investment Banking and managing director, vice chairman of investment banking, Citigroup ($300,000);

• Mark Gilbert, senior executive, Lehman Brothers ($185,000);

• Robert Wolf, chairman and CEO, UBS Americas ($100,000);

• Jennifer Scully, vice president, private wealth management, Goldman Sachs ($100,000);

• Bruce Heyman, managing director of the Private Wealth Management Group, Midwest region, Goldman Sachs ($50,000);

• Kobi Brinson, senior vice president and assistant general counsel, Wachovia ($35,000)

"It’s no wonder that Wall Street is pouring so much money into this inauguration," said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. "The executive branch has given bailouts worth trillions of dollars to Wall Street firms and is considering trillions more. Wall Street has a lot at stake."

 

Small donors do not appear to be much of a factor in the inaugural fundraising. Of the 5,632 reported contributions to the inaugural committee, only 113 were "small" contributions of $200. The Presidential Inauguration Committee is not disclosing donations below that threshold.

"No doubt many donors give simply because they want to be part of history," said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. "But donors and bundlers who represent special interests with business pending before the government and who dole out five-figure checks to the inaugural committee usually want a seat at the table with the new administration."

The most raised on inaugural festivities in the past was by President Bush in 2005, who received $42.3 million, mostly in corporate funds. Obama appears likely to break this record.

"The inauguration is the last chance for big donors to throw money at the feet of the president," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "Inaugural festivities should not be a day of influence-peddling. The inauguration should be a time for peaceful transition in government, paid for with public funds."

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