“Our goal is to make sure that we will meet the fundraising requirements for this civic event after the most expensive presidential campaign in history,” according to a statement from the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
That still disappointed government-watchdog groups, some of which had lobbied Obama to refuse corporate donations. They accused him of abandoning his effort to curb the role of money in politics after little success in his first four years.
The committee’s decision to accept all donations came after an election between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in which a record $2 billion was collected, more than half from outside groups funded in part by millionaires and billionaires, organizations that Obama had once strongly opposed.
“It has always been more appearance than reality,” said Robert Kelner, the chairman of Covington and Burling’s Election and Political Law group, which represents the Republican Party, among other clients. “They realize the idealism didn’t work well and are adjusting to financial reality.”
In 2009, Obama disclosed names, employers and states of residence for each donor, along with the amounts of contribution. This year, he’s releasing the names with no further identifying information.
So far, the committee has released two batches totaling just 992 names of people who’d donated more than $200, though the list is probably much larger. Four years ago, nearly 21,000 donations were made. A third list of names is expected to be released this week.
Committee officials declined to say why the policy had changed, even while its website continues to tout the group’s “commitment to transparency.”
“It’s mysterious to me,” said Kathy Kiely, the managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes transparency in government. “I just think for a president that really made it an issue – boasted about his transparency – for him to walk back, it’s a puzzling signal.”
A final list of donors won’t be available until three months after the inauguration, when the committee is required to report them to the Federal Election Commission. The committee isn’t required, however, to report how the money was spent, said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a public-interest law firm in Washington..
Officials at the Sunlight Foundation suspect that Obama may be raising more money than is needed for the inauguration. Leftovers can be used for a variety of other purposes, including to fund Obama’s presidential library, which will house his papers after he leaves the White House. The cost could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.