WASHINGTON — Even before Barack Obama was sworn in as president, he touted his efforts to "change business as usual in Washington" by setting strict rules for his inauguration: No corporate donations were allowed; individuals could give only $50,000.
This time, Obama's inaugural committee is seeking million-dollar contributions from corporations and offering perks in return, such as tickets to the official ball. The six companies that have given so far include AT&T, Microsoft and Financial Innovations, a marketing company that received $15.7 million to produce merchandise for Obama's re-election campaign and is the official vendor for the inauguration. The committee has put no limit on how much individuals can give.
The relaxed rules reflect how Obama has largely dropped his efforts to curb the role of money in politics, a cause he once vowed to make central to his presidency.
After railing against the political influence of outside groups funded by unlimited contributions, Obama gave his blessing to such a group working on his behalf during his re-election. Priorities USA Action, a "super PAC" set up by two former White House aides, spent nearly $75 million.
"In failing to treat campaign finance issues as serious issues, President Obama has done what every other president has done during the past 40 years," said Fred Wertheimer, president of the finance reform advocacy group Democracy 21, "and that is to do very little."