Jan. 18, 2005 – The nine elaborate balls, three candlelight dinners, a rock concert, extravagant receptions and parties preceding President Bushâ€™s January 20 inauguration will have a hefty price tag, and most of the multi-million dollar bill will be paid for by Exxon Mobil Corp., Bristol Meyers Squibb, former Enron President Richard Kinder, and dozens of well-connected Bush fundraisers.
Nearly half of the $40 million fundraising goal set by President Bushâ€™s private inaugural committee has been met, paid for almost entirely by US corporations. According to a new analysis by the government watchdog group Public Citizen, 96 percent of the $17.8 million raised is from corporations or their chairpersons, CEOs, or presidents.
As of Friday, the Inaugural Committee reported it had reached more than $25 million in contributions, and the final total could well exceed the $40 million in private contributions collected for the 2001 inauguration. By contrast, President Clintonâ€™s Inaugural Committee received $23.7 million in 1997, and $33 million in 1993.
Federal elections law prohibits corporate contributions to presidential campaigns, but not for presidential inaugural fundraising. In fact, except for a requirement to disclose contributions of $200 or more and a ban on contributions from foreign nationals, there are no federal limits on what individuals or corporations give.
Critics say the prospect for corruption and buying influence is significant under such lax requirements. "These businesses consider such gifts to be investments, with payback expected," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, in a press statement about corporate contributions to the inauguration. "Not surprisingly, many of the corporate givers received huge legislative and regulatory favors from the first Bush term and looking for even more over the next four years."
About half of contributors are well-known to the Bush campaign, and well-liked. According to Public Citizen, which tracks corporate donations to politicians, fifty-nine of them are "Pioneers," "Rangers," or "Super Rangers," the titles given to top fundraisers for the Bush presidential campaigns. These elite fundraisers averted soft money restrictions by "bundling" legal, individual contribution of $2,000 or less from friends and associates into mass amounts of $100,000, $200,000, and $300,000.
The leading donor industry to date is the finance and investment sector, which includes corporations that would likely benefit under Bushâ€™s privatization of Social Security. Together finance businesses have given $5 million to the inauguration fund.. These are many of the same members of the finance industry, including American Financial Group, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs, whose presidents, chairs, and CEOs "bundled" at least $24 million for the Bush reelection campaign.
Energy industry corporations come in second, with twelve corporations and executives responsible for $2.3 million in contributions. Again, many of these contributors were the same as those that helped reap $5.2 million in bundled contributions for the Bush presidential campaigns, including Cinergy Corporation, Occidental Petroleum, and Southern Company, which each gave $250,000. And, speculates Public Citizen, these oil, gas, and utility interests will continue to benefit from Bush administration relaxations of the Clear Air Act and his National Energy Policy.
Corporate donors that give $250,000, the legal limit, receive tickets to all inaugural events, twenty tickets for one of three candlelight dinners where Bush will make an appearance, and two tickets to a more intimate lunch with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
A $100,000 donation buys fewer tickets to one of the candlelight dinners.
The total cost of Bushâ€™s inauguration could reach $50 million, about $3 million of which is paid for by the government for the swearing-in ceremony and parade. These figures do not include security, which is expected to add at least another $17 million to the total.