Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inaugural funding: from Big Change to No Change

In December of 2008, after defeating Senator McCain in the General Election, President-elect Obama's campaign began sending out requests for donations to its supporters (or to anyone who was on their mailing lists). These e-mails read as follows (after a first-name salutation):
On January 20th, our journey to bring change will officially begin.

We're organizing the most open and accessible inauguration in our nation's history. And we're doing it without contributions from Washington lobbyists or big corporations.

Just like we did on the campaign, we're relying entirely on supporters like you -- ordinary people giving whatever they can afford to make this an event for all Americans.

I know we've asked a lot of you. But changing the way business is done in Washington will take a commitment from all of us. Right now, you can help give this administration a strong start.

And if you make a donation of any amount before midnight tonight, you could be selected to come to Washington, D.C., and be part of the welcome ceremony, the swearing in, the Inaugural Parade, and the Inaugural Community Ball.

Make a donation of $5 or more and be part of the historic moment you made possible:

[link to donation page]
We have a long road ahead of us, and we're going to face some major challenges as soon as we start. But I know I can count on you every step of the way.

Thank you for everything you've done and happy New Year,


P.S. -- You could be there for this historic moment even if you cannot make a donation. You can show your support by sharing what this inauguration means to you. Learn more here:

[link to donation page]
And so the "journey to bring change" to Washington, D.C. began, with inaugural events funded totally by individuals (donations capped at $50k per indivividual), with no dirty corporate money. For this approach, Obama was showered with praise from people in the media--and his political supporters--throughout the land. Team Obama wanted this praise, too. They were damn proud of what they were doing, of the change they were bringing:
A spokeswoman for the inauguration, Linda Douglass, said the Obama organization has taken unprecedented measures to ensure transparency and limit influence, banning direct corporate donations, limiting bundled totals to $300,000 and making donors' names public. "We have the broadest restrictions on fund raising that have been applied to any inaugural in history," she said.
There we have it: "the broadest restrictions on fund raising," ever. And why not? It was a part of the platform of the President in 2008, no lobbyists, no special interests, no corporate favoritism. Barack Obama was to be a true man of the people and his administration was to be the most open and transparent in the history of the nation.

In that same light, in 2009 the inaugural committee made a point of staging events that would be more welcoming to the general public. But some still criticized the effort, noting that much of the record-setting money raised for the festivities in 2009 came from the same heavy-duty "bundlers" who always seem to be leading the charge. And even though no corporate money was accepted, many of the top donors--writing the $50k checks--were corporate executives from Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and yes, Hollywood. Still, Team Obama defended what was happening, insisting that it represented true change, monumental change:
“It’s the same well-connected big-money people who are now funding the inaugural,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist with Public Citizen. “What they get is a chance to influence policy or get government contracts or earmarks.” 
Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for the Obama inaugural committee, disputed that notion and said donors could not buy access.  
“No one who has contributed to President-elect Obama has ever been led to believe that they’re going to have any special influence with him,” Ms. Douglass said. “He is passionately committed to changing business as usual and breaking the grip of special interests on government.”
To be fair to the President and his efforts here, this was change. There most definitely were far more individual donors for the inaugural events then there were for past Presidents in the modern era. And the events themselves were attended by far more people, as well, many of them just average citizens. An estimated 400,000 people attended the inaugural events for Bush in 2005, Over 1.5 million were on hand for Obama's in 2009. Sorry critics, that's change.

Having so many people attend these events and be present in D.C.--cheering and waving, swooning and tingling (yes, Chris Mathews, I'm looking at you)--was no small victory for someone claiming to be a true man of the people. The scenes brought to my mind the Inauguration of President Andrew Jackson in 1829. He was the first President to hold his inauguration ceremonies outside (on the East Portico of the Capital) and after it was over, everyone--yes, everyone--was allowed into the White House for a reception (obviously limited by space). Tens of thousands filled the streets around the Capital and the White House for much of the day, cheering and screaming for Jackson. It was an original moment; Jackson was truly living up to how he had been billed in his campaign, a man of the people.

So here we have Barack Obama doing very much the same thing in 2009: living up to his promises, being accessible (within reason) to his individual supporters, but not to big corporations. Despite some of the criticisms of the specifics, it was commendable in my opinion, an honest and real attempt to initiate meaningful change.

Fast forward to 2012. Obama wins reelection over challenger Mitt Romney. It is--by far--the most expensive Presidential race in history, necessitated by a challenger spawned by the wealthiest faction of corporate America. But the supposed man of the people wins, he crushes the evil capitalist stooge. Now it's time to party!

And how to pay for the party? Why, the same way as last time, right? The money will come from the people because Obama will not allow himself to be seen as in the pockets of the evil corporations. Sorry, no. That story-line is apparently all played out:
President Obama will accept unlimited donations from corporations — but no money from lobbyists or political action committees — to finance his 2013 inaugural festivities, a spokeswoman for his inaugural committee said Friday.
Say it ain't so, Joe! What happened to the Spirit of 2009? The defense from Team Obama:
But after the most expensive campaign in presidential history — Mr. Obama, the Democratic National Committee and the party’s joint fund-raising efforts took in $1.14 billion — many of the president’s contributors are feeling worn out, and the committee concluded that it would be difficult to raise the tens of millions of dollars it needed for the parade, inaugural balls and other events.

“Our goal is to make sure that we will meet the fund-raising requirements for this civic event after the most expensive presidential campaign in history,” the spokeswoman, Addie Whisenant, said in a statement, adding that donors’ names would be posted on a Web site “to ensure continued transparency.”
Well okay, as long as names are posted on a website, that's all that matters, right? No, of course not. It was never about knowing the names of donors--be they individuals or corporations--it was about not taking money from the latter group, staying true to the leftist doctrine that corporations are not people and are not good. It was about "changing the way business is done in Washington," to quote from the 2008/2009 letter.

The goalpost-moving isn't gonna fly. The truth: Team Obama needed money so principles went out the window. Sounds a lot like an evil corporation, doesn't it?

Thus, the second term of Barack Obama as President of the United States begins, amid screams of adoring fans, and the President dumps the change in favor of the big corporate dollars. It's the American way, after all...

Cheers, all.

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