ExxonMobil will give $250K to inauguration

ExxonMobil plans to contribute $250,000 to President Obama’s inauguration.

The donation is an important contribution for Obama, who is accepting corporate money for his inauguration for the first time. At least eight corporations have contributed money to the 2013 inauguration, according to donors’ names released by Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee.

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Yet Obama is trailing President George W. Bush when it comes to picking up corporate support thus far.

More than 45 companies contributed the maximum amount allowed of $250,000 apiece to help finance Bush’s 2005 inauguration, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.

Brent Colburn, communications director for Obama’s Inaugural committee, expressed confidence the group would meet its fundraising needs.

Colburn also noted that more inaugural donors’ names — possibly including some corporations — will be posted on the committee’s website.

“Our expectation is just that we will be able to meet the fundraising needs we have to put on these events and we are well on track for that.

Outside of that, we really don’t have any expectations in terms of numbers or types of donors,” Colburn said. “It’s really up to those corporations if they want to be involved, and we welcome the support if they choose they want to.”

Corporate political spending has come under more scrutiny as outside campaign spending shot up following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that let companies and unions spend unlimited funds on electioneering.

“Given the 2012 election, I’m not surprised that corporations have been fairly shy about giving money to the inauguration,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center. “Corporations look at these decisions through a risk-management lens. ... Now that we are talking in the millions, it becomes another of their risk-management decisions. What do we get for our contributions? What do we risk in political backlash?”

One Democratic lobbyist said because Obama didn’t accept corporate contributions for his 2009 inauguration, companies likely expected that they wouldn’t be able to give this time, either.

“They started late. They didn’t announce they were taking corporate money until close to the event,” said the lobbyist. “Because they didn’t take corporate money last time, I suspect companies didn’t include it in their budgets. Companies plan, they have budgets, even for their government relations.”

The Inaugural committee is not accepting contributions from lobbyists and political action committees.

A number of brand-name companies — Bank of America, FedEx, Ford Motor Co., Home Depot, Pfizer and Exxon, to name a few — gave at least $250,000 each to Bush’s second inauguration. That earned the companies “underwriter” status, giving them a package of tickets to official Inaugural balls and dinners, according to press reports at the time.

Bush raised more than $42 million for his 2005 inauguration. Obama garnered more than $53 million in contributions for his first inauguration.
At least three — AT&T, Microsoft and Southern Co. Services Inc. — of the eight corporations that have given to Obama’s second inauguration so far also contributed to Bush’s second inauguration.

In discussing its donation, Exxon said the inauguration was a historic event.

“ExxonMobil is contributing $250,000 to the Presidential Inauguration Committee for the 57th presidential inauguration, an important and historic event in the American political process,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for the company.

Several corporations did not respond to The Hill’s questions about whether they planned to contribute to Obama’s second inauguration. The New York Times reported on Jan. 11 that the Inaugural committee was struggling to meet its fundraising goal of $50 million.

Obama has gone on an aggressive fundraising push for his second inauguration. His Inaugural committee is offering several packages for donors — priced between $75,000 and $1 million — that include tickets to the Inaugural ball, bleacher seats to the Inaugural parade and access to other events over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Colburn told reporters that he didn’t know where the Inaugural committee would spend any potential leftover funds after this weekend.

“That’s a bridge we will cross when we come to it, but there is a number of civic-minded things, I think, that we will be able to do if we’re lucky enough to have excess funds when it’s all said and done,” Colburn said.

Obama is releasing less information about his Inaugural donors than he did in 2009. The Sunlight Foundation noted the Inaugural committee only posted the donors’ names online this time — not the contribution amount or the contributor’s occupation and city, like in 2009.

“They are telling us that they cannot meet the standard of transparency they set up four years ago. They’re backsliding,” said Kathy Kiely, Sunlight’s managing editor.

Colburn said that the Inaugural committee has to file a report detailing its donors with the FEC 90 days after the inauguration takes place.

Further, the committee has been posting its donors’ names online on a weekly basis every Friday evening.

“We believe this is a step above and beyond the transparency regulations placed down by the FEC and we encourage folks to go to our website,” Colburn said.

The change by Obama to accept corporate money has worried watchdog groups. Some are not optimistic that the president will move on campaign finance reform in his second term.

“It fits into a pattern of not treating this campaign-finance issue with concern when in fact it is of great concern to the integrity of the political process and our democratic system,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz defended the administration, saying the president has worked to reform Washington. Obama has pushed for legislation that would increase disclosure for campaign spending and issued an executive order to slow the revolving door between K Street and his administration.

“This president has done more to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington than any administration in history,” Schultz said.