WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama, the best fundraiser in American political history, will be publicly inaugurated Monday with a flurry of balls, concerts, and other events, many of which will be paid for by wealthy donors. But not the donors that most people expect.
With only days to go, the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) has released the names of more than 990 inauguration "benefactors," with additional donors expected to be identified soon. What's really interesting is not who is listed; it's who is missing. Conspicuously scarce on the list are the holy trinity of political fundraising: ultra-wealthy, top-dollar donors; reliable, midlevel campaign contributors; and corporations.
Although Obama raised $1.4 billion for his two presidential campaigns -- far more than any other candidate in U.S. history -- as of early this week, his inaugural committee was reportedly still millions of dollars short of its goal of raising around $50 million. The money will be used to pay for inauguration logistics such as Jumbotrons on the National Mall and porta-potties for attendees, as well as a children's concert and two inaugural balls.
The benefactors listed on the PIC's website represent only a portion of the total donors and more names are being added all the time. "Our goal is to make sure that we will meet the fundraising requirements for this civic event, and we are on track to securing all of the resources we need," PIC spokeswoman Addie Whisenant told HuffPost. “The list on the PIC website is an initial list and will continue to be updated in the coming days."
Nevertheless, the trends are surprising.
An analysis by The Huffington Post found less than 2 percent of the biggest contributors to Obama's first inauguration are listed as "benefactors" this time around -- 18 out of more than 440 donors who gave the $50,000 maximum in 2009. Of the 22 individuals who made donations of more than $1 million each to Obama's reelection super PAC, Priorities USA Action, only four -- Kareem Ahmed, Fred Eychaner, Barbara Steifel and, through Stream Line Circle LLC, Jon Stryker -- have chipped in for the inauguration.
Multimillionaires aren't the only Obama donors who may be sitting out this round. Midlevel campaign contributors -- the backbone of any political fundraising operation -- are also in short supply on the list of "benefactors." Only 25 percent of the more than 990 individual inauguration donors contributed $2,500 or more to efforts to reelect Obama.
As for what's behind the lackluster numbers, political observers point to individual donor fatigue. "The problem is that after having raised so much money for the general election, most of the people who wanted to contribute to Obama already have," said Bill Allison, editorial director at the nonprofit watchdog group Sunlight Foundation. "The president's donors are tapped out."
But donor fatigue may have been hastened over the past four years by Obama's widely noted distaste for rewarding his most generous contributors with schmoozing opportunities and White House perks. According to one Democratic fundraiser and Obama donor who spoke on background because she does business with the administration, "That's one of the things that's been frustrating for the Obama donors, that there's not a warm relationship with the president and his inner circle -- no social events, Lincoln Bedroom, things like that."
Insufficient contributors could be the main reason for the inaugural team's decision to open up giving beyond individual donors. In December, PIC officials announced that corporations would be allowed to donate, a reversal from the 2009 policy, amid concerns that the individual donors were "tapped out" after record-setting fundraising in 2012.
But even with the door wide open for corporate donations, only eight companies appeared on inauguration donor lists by the middle of this week. Microsoft, AT&T and Genentech are all named, as is Financial Innovations, the company handling the official inauguration merchandise.
"In some ways, the lack of corporate money says [the Obama administration] is really not that dependent on corporate backers, which is pretty admirable," said a well-placed fundraiser for the Democratic Party who requested anonymity to discuss ongoing efforts. "But these are huge amounts of money that they're asking for, too, and corporations didn't have it budgeted."
The lack of business giving may also reflect the Obama team's relatively limited experience in raising corporate cash, a process that's typically orchestrated by lobbyists who represent the companies in Washington. Obama banned direct campaign contributions to both his presidential campaigns and the Democratic National Committee from individuals who are registered lobbyists, a ban that was extended to the inauguration committee. So the lobbyists themselves are off limits, while their corporate clients are being targeted.
"The Obama people have never raised lobbyist money or corporate money before for his campaigns, so they've got no experience in this," said the fundraiser, who has more than two decades of experience pulling in money for Democrats. "When I look at this, it seems like they're just not pushing [the corporate donors] really hard. They don't know how to, because they haven't been wining and dining these lobbyists."
Rather than offer corporate donors the typical quid-pro-quo access to policymakers, she said, "The administration's attitude is more one of 'OK, fine, we will accept this money,' but they're not chasing it. And they're not offering anything in return."
Which is not to say that Obama's corporate inaugural donors aren't hoping for something in return; they surely are. Southern Company has already received a $165 million Smart Grid Investment Grant, made available in the 2009 stimulus law, and strongly supported cap-and-trade emissions regulation. Centene Management, a health services company focused on Medicaid, gained when health care reform vastly expanded that program. Microsoft and its founder Bill Gates have been close to the administration, with Microsoft employees ranking as the second largest source of campaign money for the president's reelection. Genentech, United Therapeutics and AT&T have looked for government approval of drugs, mergers and spectrum adjustments.
"Individuals and institutions that donate to the PIC range from longtime grassroots volunteers to new supporters, including some who disagree with his Administration on certain issues and positions," said the PIC's Whisenant. "The committee welcomes all donations of those meet the correct guidelines and want to help fund this traditional civic event.”
As Obama's inaugural committee attempted to branch out in recent weeks beyond individual donors, the corporate donation ban wasn't the only policy reversed. The second inauguration committee is providing far less disclosure of donor details than its counterpart did in 2009. More importantly, the PIC has also eliminated the contribution limits typically set by presidential inauguration committees.
In 2009, the Obama inaugural team capped donations at $50,000. President George W. Bush set a cap of $250,000 for his second inauguration. This time, with no contribution limits and far less disclosure, it is unclear which donors have exceeded the previous limits.
It is not mandatory for the inauguration committee to disclose donors prior to the federal filing deadline this April, but it has become regular policy among recent presidents to provide voluntary disclosure ahead of the event. While the 2013 Obama inauguration committee has provided the names of donors, it has stopped short of listing donation amounts or donor occupations. It also released its initial disclosure at a much later date than in 2009, posting around 600 names early in January and updating the list once since then, with another 400 names.
"It's really frustrating not to be able to see the donors' amounts and their occupations," said Allison of the Sunlight Foundation. "By just publishing names, they're putting up the part that's least useful."
Whisenant at the PIC defended the disclosure policy. "Our donations guidelines and disclosures aren’t just consistent with the law; they are consistent with our commitment to transparency and to reducing the influence of PACs and lobbyists in Washington. President Obama remains the only president who has refused to accept donations from PACs and lobbyists, and both of his inaugural committees have gone beyond what's required by federal law to put in place extra transparency measures," she told HuffPost
Regardless of how the inaugural committee discloses its donors, there is one thing that Allison, Whisenant and party fundraisers all agree upon: Despite how the numbers look now, the committee will raise all the money it needs.
"There are enough Democrats with deep pockets that if it really comes to that, the money's going to be there," said the party fundraiser. "That's just a given."
Allison agreed, saying, "They've got an incredible fundraising operation, and whether or not they're upfront ahead of time about where the money comes from, there's going to be more than enough money."
This article has been updated with additional comments from the inaugural committee spokeswoman.
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