Partying with POTUS

Presidential Inaugural Committee accepts donations from companies with ties to government

2009 Presidential Inauguration / AP
January 10, 2013

Several prominent corporations with business links to the government have lined up to donate to the festivities since the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee announced it would accept corporate funds.

The donations, barred in 2009, were first reported in December. The committee is selling different levels of access to inaugural events to both individuals and corporations. At least one government watchdog group immediately questioned the decision, raising ethical concerns.

"The decision prioritizes a lavish celebration over the integrity of the office," wrote John Wonderlich, policy director for the pro-government transparency Sunlight Foundation.

The committee’s website lists the donors but does not provide the amount of the donations.

Included in the list of donors is Microsoft, which scored a three-year contract with the Department of Defense on Friday to equip the Army, Air Force, and Defense Information Systems Agency. The deal will put Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 8, on about three-fourths of the department’s computers.

Microsoft’s announcement praised the deal as "the most comprehensive licensing agreement Microsoft Corp. has ever established with the U.S. Department of Defense."

Sales of Windows 8 have languished below even the level of the widely panned Windows Vista. The Army and Air Force have been working with Microsoft to ensure that the new operating system is appropriately secure, Business Insider reported.

Financial Innovations, Inc., a marketing firm and promotional product developer, is another listed donor. The Obama campaign paid Financial Innovations nearly $1.8 million during the 2012 election cycle for campaign assistance.

Financial Innovations has deep ties to the Democratic Party: It provided merchandise for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid and has created Democratic merchandise since Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign.

Mark Weiner, the owner of Financial Innovations, has connections to the Democratic Party establishment beyond his business. He was a super delegate to the 2008 Democratic Convention, according to NPR, and he bundled between $200,000 and $500,000 for the Obama campaign during this election.

Mobile communications company AT&T is also on the list of donors. AT&T ran into government opposition to its attempt to acquire T-Mobile in 2011, ultimately ending its attempt.

AT&T blamed the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission for the aborted acquisition. AT&T said the wireless industry needs more spectrum, a problem that the merger would try to solve.

"In the absence of such steps, customers will be harmed and needed investment will be stifled," AT&T said in a statement at the time.

It is unclear whether AT&T will try to acquire T-Mobile or another company again, but it has strong connections to the administration. John Stankey, AT&T’s group president and chief strategy officer, is a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.

The committee also lists Centene Corporation, a healthcare service provider as a donor. Centene is expected to benefit from the expansion of Medicaid contained in Obamacare, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch predicted that it would become a target for other companies to acquire because of its large share in that government program.

"Regardless of whether Centene is acquired, its Medicaid business should continue to expand," reported the Dispatch.

The committee will release the amounts of the donations within 90 days of the inauguration, in accordance with FEC rules.

The committee is accepting corporate donations "to help cover the cost of the public events" after "the most expensive presidential campaign in history," wrote committee spokesman Cameron French.

"The PIC will not be accepting donations from lobbyists or PACs and will not be entering into any sponsorship agreements with individuals or corporations," he wrote. "To ensure continued transparency, all names of donors will be posted to a regularly updated website."

The Sunlight Foundation bemoaned the difference in transparency between 2009 and this year after the names were released, noting multiple changes in the committee’s disclosure methods.