President-Elect Obama is carrying his theme of change through the inauguration, where, as reported, he is limiting the amount individuals can donate to his inaugural committee to $50,000 and refusing money from corporations and lobbyists. All well and good — and certainly in line with the campaign finance standards Obama enforced during the election — but with escalating hype surrounding one of the most historic inauguration days in American history, can Obama actually afford to keep such a promise without angering his new neighbors in the District?
The lavish events that traditionally mark inauguration week are funded by private donations raised by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. In 2005 Bush’s inaugural committee raised about $40 million — at least $24 million of that came from big-business interests. Fifty-three corporations shelled out maximum donations of $250,000, the voluntary limit set by the 2005 committee. (Unlike campaign donations, inaugural donations are neither subject to legal limitations nor governed by any federal laws.) And that was for a ceremony that didn’t even draw 500,000 people. Next month, some 2 million are likely to descend upon the nation’s capital.
The feds and the D.C. government cover the costs of the swearing-in ceremony, security, and other public services. This year, the feds have allocated $15 million for that purpose, but costs could be much higher. Last time around, security expenses totaled $17.3 million, but federal funding only covered a portion of that. In the end, the District had to dip into its own funds for a homeland security project to pay the remaining $11.9 million.
As D.C. gears up for what is sure to be a logistical nightmare, locals may be even more disgruntled if their taxpayer dollars end up getting tapped to make up the funding gap.