Skip to comments.NYT: It's Inauguration Time Again, and Access Still Has Its Price (also a Times editorial)
Posted on 12/10/2004 6:22:03 AM PST by OESY
WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 - Tickets to all official inaugural events, including an "elegant" candlelight dinner with a special appearance by President Bush: $100,000.
Tickets to all official inaugural events, two additional tickets to an "exclusive" lunch with Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney, plus an all-access pass to any inaugural ball: $250,000.
Telling your friends, "As I explained to the president just the other day... .": priceless.
Mr. Bush's inaugural committee, seeking to raise more than $40 million, a record, sent out hundreds of solicitations to the president's biggest campaign contributors this week offering packages of party benefits and access to the president in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Even at a time of war when more than 138,000 American troops are serving in Iraq, the organizers say that the inaugural celebration at the end of the January will not be marked by any noticeable restraint and will cost more than any other in history.
But organizers also say that the prodigious Republican fund-raising will pay for a celebration that is to have a "solemnity" missing from other inaugurals.
"There have been 55 inaugurations and very few have taken place during wartime, and this inaugural will reflect that," said Steve Schmidt, the inaugural committee's communications director. "You will see a strong emphasis on the military and veterans. The record fund-raising can be explained by a simple fact: in all areas of endeavor, whether it's an inaugural or the Macy's parade, things are more expensive than they were four years ago."
The letters to potential donors, mailed on Wednesday, spell out the benefits in exhaustive detail. The $250,000 "underwriter package" includes two tickets for an "exclusive" lunch with the president and vice president plus 20 tickets, that is two tables of 10 each for one of three candlelight dinners to be held on Jan. 19. The simultaneous dinners, at Union Station, the Pension Building and the Washington Hilton, are to feature "special appearances" by Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their spouses.
A $100,000 "sponsor package" offers most of the same benefits as the underwriter package, but with fewer tickets for the dinners. It also omits the lunch with the president.
Both packages offer four tickets to a "youth concert" with "the first daughters, Barbara and Jenna Bush," as hosts, and also promise that "you or your corporation will be recognized on all printed materials."
Mercer Reynolds, one of the three national co-chairmen of the inaugural committee, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that fund-raising was going "very, very well," although Mr. Reynolds had no official numbers after one day of seeking donations.
"I have tentative results; I have my exit polls," he said. "The results I'm personally getting on the phone are quite encouraging."
The packages, which one inaugural official described as "business as usual," are similar to those offered for the Bush inauguration in 2001, when Republicans raised and spent $40 million, a record at the time. Former President Bill Clinton's inaugural committees, which raised $33 million in 1993 and $23.7 million in 1997, also offered special benefits to big donors.
Mr. Reynolds said he expected that most of the money for the 2005 inauguration would come from large contributors, with a smaller sum from ticket and memorabilia sales to the general public. He said that corporations would account for most of the $250,000 contributions and that many of the $100,000 donations would come from individuals.
Unlike campaign contributions, there are no legal limits on the amount that an individual or corporation can donate to the inauguration. In 2001, the Enron Corporation gave $100,000 for the Bush inauguration, and the company's chairman at the time, Kenneth Lay, gave an additional $100,000. A spokeswoman said that the company, which went bankrupt after a financial scandal, would give nothing this time.
But as they did last time, Bush fund-raisers have placed their own $250,000 cap on donations to avoid seeming greedy and to prevent any bad publicity over a $1 million corporate contribution.
A senior inauguration official said that in any case $250,000 and $100,000 donations were large enough to make ticket prices less expensive for people like "school teachers and bus drivers" who wanted to attend the inaugural balls and other events that will be open to the general public and are scheduled from Jan. 18 through Jan. 21.
But groups favoring restrictions on political donations from rich individuals and big business said that the large donations were creating inaugurations far different from the ones envisioned by the founding fathers.
"The inauguration should be for all citizens," said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, an organization that seeks to prevent the influence of big money in politics. "And to create different classes of citizens at the inauguration depending on how rich you are - and how much money you are prepared to spend to buy first-class citizenship - is not what our democracy is about."
Mr. Wertheimer added that the corporations and individuals who help pay for the president's parties "clearly have the potential to gain access and influence as a result."
Organizers said that they had not yet settled on a theme for the inauguration, but expected to announce one next week. They said a prominent feature of the celebration would be a gala, tentatively scheduled to be held at the MCI Center, billed as "America's Heroes: A Salute to Those Who Serve." In addition, organizers said there would be a new "commander in chief's" inaugural ball with free tickets for those in the military.
The entertainment has not been finalized, but organizers expect an appearance by Brooks & Dunn, the country duo whose swaggering, cheerful song "Only in America" was the anthem of the 2004 Bush campaign. The lyrics include these lines: "One kid dreams of fame and fortune, one kid helps pay the rent/One could end up going to prison, one just might be president."
Organizers also insisted that the event would be for the whole country, not just Mr. Bush's supporters. "I don't view it as a partisan thing as much as I do a great celebration for America," said one inaugural official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject. "We're not going 'na, na, na, na, na.' Not out loud, anyway."
P.S. for Kristinn: Gen. Tommy Franks was emailed an invitation to the FReeper Ball yesterday via Cavuto on Business, where he appeared as a guest, though there is no confirmation he received it.
More accurately phrased, Wertheimer seeks to prevent the influence of Republican big money in politics. I don't recall Freddie Boy as being particularly outraged about George Soros's $23 million in soft money.
ping for P.S. re: Gen. Franks
"...inaugurations far different from the ones envisioned by the founding fathers."
I doubt the inaugural parties would top the founding father's "Not In Our Name" list!
I'm glad to see that the Times is following up on their story on the excesses of the Clinton Library money grab with this sour grapes story. I'd hate to think that they were biased in any way.
How sweet it is!!!
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