What a difference an election can make. Barack Obama, whose election victory and inauguration four years ago was fueled by the promise of change, transparency and the end of big money politics, ushers in his second inauguration with quite a bit of change. As in money from companies, labor unions and millionaire donors.
Unlike his first inauguration, Obama is allowing $1 million donations to help fund this weekend’s festivities, taking corporate donations that were banned last time around and refusing to provide full information about the donors.
In fact, all his Presidential Inaugural Committee is releasing about the 2013 donors is a name. No employer, city, state or amount given like last time. Americans won't get that information now until 90 days after the big bash is over.
Still, the latest rolls of donors Obama released this weekend show that big money interests with plenty of stake in Obama’s second term are paying for the inaugural party and winning access to the VIPs.
Phone giant AT&T, which is locked a battle with smaller carriers for more wireless spectrum and other issues at the Federal Communications Commission, is one of the big corporate donors to appear on the list.
Its stake in a second Obama term is clear: it hired more than two dozen lobbying firms to influence Washington last year and spent more than $14 million on lobbying, according to its lobbying disclosure reports.
Likewise, Big Labor also has made a big impact on the inauguration. More than a half dozen unions are listed as benefactors to the inaugural parties. They include the Laborers International Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Postal Workers Union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
With record declines in membership, unions have been backing Obama as an ally in hopes of repelling Republican governor’s effort to reduce union influence in collective bargaining. They got a major win from the administration in October when the National Labor Relations Board ruled Boeing workers had the right to discussing union issues and organizing during work hours.
With more right-to-work initiatives spreading in conservative states, unions will be looking for more help from the administration in a second term, making their substantial investment in get-out-the-vote efforts in the November elections as well as their largesse to the Obama inauguration a good investment.
The Obama who took the oath in 2009 also frequently railed against Washington’s big money system, often singling out lobbyists and big fund-raisers as the source of the problem.
But his inaugural fund-raising rolls this time around are dotted with icons from that system. Employers from more than a dozen law firms that frequently do lobbying appear on the donor rolls, as well as a few more famous ex-lobbyists.
Take for instance Steve Ricchetti, a Democratic strategist who raised eyebrows when he left his lobbying firm just a few months ago to work inside Vice President Joe Biden’s operation in the White House. Ricchetti’s past lobbying clients included AT&T, drugmaker Eli Lilly, and GM, a fact that Republicans seized upon when his move to the administration was announced last spring. Now Ricchetti's name and largesse appear on the inaugural donors roll.
There’s also more than a dozen bundlers – those super fundraisers who bundle large amounts of donations for campaigns – from Obama’s past campaigns on the inaugural givers list, including hotel heiress Penny Pritzker, Atlanta attorney Pinney Allen and Chicago businessmen Rajiv Fernando and Fred Eychaner.
The White House refused to discuss on the record the changes in fund-raising this time around, or the less transparency. Privately, though, aides told the Washington Guardian that donor fatigue after the historic spending of the 2012 election played a role in rolling back the prior prohibitions on corporation donations, and $1 million checks. Last time around, Obama limited inugural donors to $50,000.
The entire spectacle of how Obama has funded his 2013 inauguration has left campaign finance reform advocates disillusioned, and accusing the president of backsliding on his promises and practices of four years ago.
“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,” Sheila Krumholz, the head of the Center for Responsive Politics, wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed this past week.
“That makes the backsliding this year especially disheartening. In fact, by comparison, this year's process feels like a snub,” she added.
For campaign finance reform advocates, yes. But for fat-cat donors, there's no snub. They’ll be getting VIP seats and red-carpet treatment at the big inaugural bash they are funding.
You can explore all the donations to the inauguration here .