The Inaugural List to Be On...Money Givers

Washington Matters

The Inaugural List to Be On...Money Givers

The Obama-Biden team still has fundraising work to do, this time to pay for transition activities and several blockbuster events surrounding Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. The normal campaign contribution limits don't apply. And it's being done quietly -- no Internet fundraising, no direct mail and no big evening galas. You almost have to be told about this elite fundraising operation to know it exists. 

Since 1980, its been the practice of a new or reelected president to raise money privately for elaborate inaugural planning and transition work. Few rules apply. Corporations can write checks, lobbyists can open wallets and wealthy donors and party types can participate. It's a final chance to make a positive impression via dollars with the winning candidate.

Obama is taking some steps to limit influence in transition fundraising. He is not accepting donations from corporations or registered lobbyists. (Many lobbyists are not officially registered as such, however, and therefore some people in this group with business before Congress and the White House will be allowed to contribute. So too will the wives of registered lobbyists).

This final area of fundraising is actually ripe for influence peddling. For instance, there is no ban on participation from bundlers, people who string together several donors so their name is reflected as part of a larger donation.


Congress is setting aside about $6.5 million for transition costs and to cover expenses for a 450-person transition team and legal costs for closing down the campaign. Obama reportedly aims to add another $6 million or so in private money to cover expenses, but that's just a ball park figure. It could possibly be much more. That shouldn't be a problem for the Obama team, given that the campaign raised over $600 million in his presidential run. 

Unlike contibutions made during the campaign, there is a higher maximum limit per person of $5000 (set by the Obama camp) for transition donations. In recent transitions, no caps were included. In 1992, Bill Clinton was given $5 million from Congress for transition work and raised an extra $5.2 million. In 2000, President Bush was given $4.7 million and raised an extra $7.1 million. Clinton accepted some corporate donations in 1992 but not in 1996 in the wake of fundraising scandals in the news at the time. Bush received corporate money in both 2000 and 2004 for transition work. Corporate money is barred in the regular campaign finance system.

We won't know who will be on Obama's post-election elite fundraising list until later in February when the Obama White House is required to release details on transition fundraising to the General Services Administration. The scope of the details to be released is also a gray area.

I bet it will be a list that will be remembered, though. People don't write $5,000 checks (or $10,000 for a Washington power couple) for nothing. Don't be surprised if some top donors, many of them probably Washington, New York and Chicago power brokers, end up with influence -- or at least getting their phone calls returned quickly when they need a favor.


Seems to me there shouldn't need to be any private fundraising after the election for transition work. If what the candidates will raise privately is about the same as what Congress is providing, Congress should simply double the allotment and cover it all. It's a small expense in comparison to other budget items and would be one more reform to clean up the appearance of conflict with money in politics.