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Corporate Cash to Flood Obama Inauguration

Departure from previous inauguration seen as "undermining the case for corporate-free elections."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

President Obama's decision to accept corporate funding for inaugural festivities in January is being derided as "undermining the case for corporate-free elections."

The decision to accept corporate cash is in contrast to his 2009 inauguration, when, USA Today points out, "Obama banned corporate, lobbyist and PAC donations and imposed a $50,000 cap on other contributions. At the time, spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama banned corporate money and imposed other restrictions to 'change business as usual in Washington.'"

In an irony not lost on critics of the funding, the inauguration will take place on Jan. 21, the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling.

The New York Times, which received information from a fundraiser, reports on the variety of festivities big-money donors will be able to take part in.  The Times reports:

The online solicitation, sent to donors by e-mail on Friday, described the different inaugural packages, each named for a president: Washington ($1 million from institutions and $250,000 from individuals); Adams ($500,000 from institutions and $150,000 from individuals); Jefferson ($250,000 from institutions and $75,000 from individuals); and Madison ($100,000 from institutions and $10,000 from individuals).

Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen, says that the "American people have a right to expect something other than an inauguration brought to them by Bank of America."

Decrying the move, Weissman writes:

That the corporate-funded inaugural festivities will fall on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, is not just ironic given President Obama’s stated support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision holding that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on elections, it undermines the case for corporate-free elections.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has stated that it will not accept funds from lobbyists, foreign corporations, TARP recipients that have not repaid their government loans or others that do not pass its vetting process. But every corporation’s donations create a conflict of interest, because they all have business before the government in one way or the other. The problem with donations from lobbyists is that they expect something in return for their contribution. The situation is exactly the same with corporate contributors, virtually all of whom employ lobbyists.

ABC News' Matthew Larotonda points out that "kind of financing is not new in Washington," however, and continues:

President George W. Bush's 2005 inaugural, for example, had similar arrangements for donors including Time Warner, Wachovia, Home Depot, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. and Pfizer Inc., at $250,000 each. But this year's reversal is another departure from the pledges then-candidate Obama made during the 2008 election to keep certain kinds of political fundraising away from the Oval Office.

Larotonda also quotes John Wonderlich of the government transparency group Sunlight Foundation, who remarks: 

"The administration asks to be judged in comparison to Bush, saying their record speaks for itself," the Sunlight Foundation's John Wonderlich said of Obama's record on transparency. "At some point, though, it's time to judge Obama in his own words. Obama said unlimited donations sully our democracy, threaten public service, and weaken representation - and has now chosen to embrace them."

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