Inauguration a dash for corporate cash

Washington, Jan. 22 -- When Obama became president, in 2009, he kept his promise to shake up Washington by imposing a $50,000 cap on all donations to his inaugural fund, declining any financial gifts from corporations or trade unions and releasing full details of all the individuals who had contributed.

What a lot has changed in four years. As Obama prepares to revel in his second inauguration, on Monday, there is no ceiling on what an individual can give, corporations and lobby groups are very welcome and the presidential inaugural committee has been going on a fundraising binge as though there was no tomorrow.

On surface appearance, the inauguration is a sober and scaled-down affair compared with 2009. The number of Inaugural Balls on Monday night has been slashed from 10 to two - a Commander-in-Chief Ball and an Inaugural Ball. But don't be fooled by the outward semblance of austerity. In fact, says the government transparency watchdog, the Sunlight Foundation, this inauguration has been turned into an orgy of cash generation.

"Here's a guy who four years ago was Mr Transparency, vowing to change the way business was done in Washington, and now it all looks very much as though its business as usual once again. That's puzzling," said the foundation's Kathy Kiely.

Take the web page that the presidential inaugural committee posted a few months ago, called "Help America celebrate". It invites individuals to become a "Washington premium partner". As part of the package the donor - billed as an "institution" - is offered 16 tickets to various official events, including four to the inaugural ball. The price tag: $1m. For $500,000, an institution can opt for the John Adams package. The most expensive package for an individual donor is $250,000.

Not only is Obama inviting huge sums from individuals and corporations alike, he has also refused to disclose details on the sums given by donors and has only belatedly agreed to release their names. For transparency campaigners, Obama's aggressive pursuit of cash takes some of the shine off a great celebration of the peaceful democratic transfer of power.

Guardian News Service

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.