Politics & Government

Big money names behind Trump inaugural start to come out despite his secrecy plan

Construction continues on the inaugural platform in preparation for the inauguration and swearing-in ceremonies for President-elect Donald Trump, Dec. 8, 2016, on the Capitol steps in Washington. Trump will be sworn in as president on Friday.
Construction continues on the inaugural platform in preparation for the inauguration and swearing-in ceremonies for President-elect Donald Trump, Dec. 8, 2016, on the Capitol steps in Washington. Trump will be sworn in as president on Friday. AP

Donald Trump is trying to keep the names of the people and companies donating millions of dollars to his inauguration festivities this week a secret — a break from his Republican and Democratic predecessors in the White House.

At least the last three presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all disclosed names of donors before they were sworn into office .

A federal law passed when Bush was in office required presidents to reveal names of contributors, but only 90 days following the inauguration.

Some names have been leaked out or been released by the donors themselves. Chevron gave $500,000 and will sponsor additional events and Boeing pledged $1 million, according to the companies. AT&T and JPMorgan Chase also donated, according to the companies. Other corporate donors include those who donated to Obama’s inauguration or had declined to contribute to the Republican National Convention last summer, including UPS, Bank of America and Deloitte, according to the New York Times.

“It is all about access and influence,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the nonpartisan public advocacy group Public Citizen. “Donations come in very large amounts and from those who almost always want something from the new administration.”

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Occidental Petroleum, one of Clinton’s donors, for example, reached a settlement with the Energy Department in a price-fixing case after Clinton took office. AT&T, one of Obama’s donors, lobbied for regulatory approval of a merger with rival T-Mobile.

Trump’s decision doesn’t surprise those who have watched him hire or appoint donors and lobbyists as well as advocate for secrecy.

He failed to release the names of so-called bundlers who raised thousands of dollars for him from friends, acquaintances and associates. He failed to release his tax returns, a common practice for presidential nominees for four decades. Some of his nominees to be Cabinet secretaries have delayed providing background materials before their confirmation hearings. And in recent days, he has threatened to investigate how journalists received classified information.

As a general matter, the incoming Trump administration has snubbed its nose at disclosure and transparency.

Paul Seamus Ryan, vice president, policy and litigation at Common Cause

John Wonderlich, executive director for the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for more openness in government, called Trump one of the most secretive candidates in modern history. “This trend is continuing through the pre-presidency and likely the presidency,” he said.

Trump is expected to raise more than $90 million — a record amount — from people and corporations to pay for days of activities, including receptions, balls and the parade surrounding the 58th inauguration celebration. Taxpayers will spend millions more on the official swearing-in ceremony, security, construction and cleanup.

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His inaugural committee, like those of previous presidents, is offering special events and housing that includes access to Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence and their families in exchange for at least six-figure donations.

For $100,000, donors will receive two tickets for dinner and a policy discussion with select Cabinet appointees. For $250,000, there’s two tickets to a lunch with women of the first family. For $1 million, there’s four tickets to a lunch featuring Cabinet appointees and congressional leaders and four tickets to a dinner with Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen.

Trump tapped his longtime friend, Tom Barrack, a California a private equity real estate investor, to head his inaugural committee. Members include wealthy donors or Republican loyalists, including Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets; casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam; and Wisconsin businesswoman Diane Hendricks. They are likely to have made donations themselves and solicited donations from others.

Messages left for other large companies that had donated to past inaugurations including Citigroup, Microsoft and UBS, were not returned. Others, including Wells Fargo, said they were not contributing.

A spokesman for the committee did not return a request for comment. But a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly said that Trump’s team did consider whether to release the names of donors, but determined that disclosing the names early would produce multiple headlines instead of just one when they are required to be released by law.

The government places no limits on contributions though Trump’s committee said it would not accept any money from registered lobbyists. Previous presidents have put some limits on the people who could donate and how much they could donate.

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For at least 24 years, presidents have disclosed inaugural donors but they varied on what additional information they provided

In 1993, Clinton disclosed many names before the swearing-in, though the public didn’t learn how much they contributed for three years. Four years later, Clinton pledged disclosure by March 31.

In 2001 and 2005, Bush disclosed before his inaugurations the names of his donors, their home cities and the amounts they gave.

In 2009, Obama disclosed names, employers and states of residence for donors, along with the amounts of contribution. Four years later, he only released the names with no further identifying information.

The Center for Responsive Politics has long advocated for Congress to pass a law requiring more timely disclosure as well as limits on the the types of donors and the size of their donations.

“Congress says contributions to candidates should be limited,” said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow for the group. “Those same principles should apply inaugurals.”

Vera Bergengruen in Washington contributed.

Note: This version adds name of donors, some reported by the New York Times.

Estimates of how much money presidents raised for inaugurations

Barack Obama, 2009, $53 million; 2012, $44 million.

George W. Bush, 2005, $42.3 million; 2001, $30 million.

Bill Clinton, 1997, $29 million; 1993, $25 million-$30 million.

George H. W. Bush, 1989, $30 million.

Ronald Reagan, 1985, $20 million; 1981, $16.3 million.

Jimmy Carter, 1977, $3.5 million.

Richard Nixon, 1973, $4 million.

Source: Congressional Research Service

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