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Keeping tabs on inaugural funding

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 13, 2009

Keeping tabs on inaugural funding

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 13, 2009


Bill Radke: The cell phone cameras will be rolling next week as Barack Obama is sworn in on Abe Lincoln’s Bible. It’s not just an inauguration, of course — there’s the parade, and all the parties. Obama has to pay for most of this. His inaugural committee has been raising the money. But not from corporations and registered lobbyists. The committee says it is refusing donations from those usual suspects. So how will it pay for everything? Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer takes a look.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: President-elect Obama had some strong words about lobbyists during his campaign:

President-elect Obama: They will not run my White House — you’ll help me run my White House. They will not drown out the voices of the American people when I’m president.

Now, Obama is trying to live up to that promise. Inaugural fund-raising in unregulated. Still, Obama has banned contributions from registered lobbyists, political action committees, corporations and foreigners. Contributions from individuals are limited to $50,000. But the rules can be bent.

Sheila Krumholz: You could drive a Mack truck through the loophole on lobbyists.

Sheila Krumholz heads the Center for Responsive Politics. She says lobbyists who haven’t registered with the federal government can still contribute to the inauguration. And registered lobbyists can get around the rules, too.

Krumholz: Spouses of registered lobbyists can give — spouses, children. It’s a pro-family system.

Wealthy individuals can use their families to double their donations. A couple can give Obama $100,000. That’s a lot more than the $4,600 limit for individual donations to the campaign.

Still, inaugural committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass defends the Obama team’s efforts:

Linda Douglass: There are the strongest restrictions to try to reduce the influence of special interests that we’ve ever seen.

Well, not quite . . .

Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, the President-elect, William Jefferson Clinton.

According to Public Citizen, President Clinton banned corporate donations for his second inauguration. He limited individual donations to $100. Of course, Clinton could afford that because he had a surplus from his first inaugural — thanks to corporate donations.

Obama also has a surplus — from his campaign. But he’d prefer not to use that money for the inaugural. The inaugural committee has raised about $27 million so far, just over half what it needs.

Douglass says the committee is also selling Obama memorabilia on its website and should meet its target. It recently encouraged the less well heeled to pony up. If they gave five bucks, they were eligible for one of 10 free tickets for the swearing in.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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