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Record-Setting Inauguration Kitty: If Only It Had Bought a Bigger Crowd

April 19, 2017

Record-Setting Inauguration Kitty: If Only It Had Bought a Bigger Crowd

Statements of Public Citizen Experts

Note: President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee announced today that it raised a record $106.7 million for Trump’s inauguration – about double the record set by former President Barack Obama.

“If only all that money had bought a bigger crowd.

The Trump administration did not wait to take office before embracing and deepening the pay-to-play, corrupting culture against which candidate Trump ran.

Those who did attend the inauguration did so out of civic pride and a celebration of American democracy. For inaugural donors, it was all about buying access and influence, and corrupting American democracy.”

– Robert Weissman, president, Public Citizen

“Trump’s inauguration was a record-breaking spectacle. He spent in excess of $100 million for the festivities, which far exceeds any previous inaugural spending.

To reach that goal, Trump imposed very few restrictions on the sources and amounts of donations. While Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama placed caps on the amount of donations for their inaugurations – and President Obama also eschewed corporate, PAC and lobbyist donations – Trump declined donations only from registered lobbyists. The sky was the limit on the amount a corporation, PAC or wealthy individual could contribute. In fact, his inaugural committee offered packages to entice large donors; the more one gave, the better access to Trump and congressional leaders. For the $1 million package, a donor received an ‘intimate dinner’ with the president, vice president and Cabinet officials. For the lesser $250,000 package, a donor received an ‘intimate policy discussion.’

This is precisely the type of buying access behavior that prompted the Rehnquist Court in 2003 to uphold the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance limits.

In looking at the history of inaugural fundraising, the money mostly comes from corporate sources – corporate treasuries and corporate senior managers – and in large donations. Almost no inaugural donations come in small amounts under $200. And for Trump, there are no access packages for small donors. That means for nearly all of America who cannot afford a Trump package, we were on the outside looking in during the Trump inauguration.”

– Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist, Public Citizen