Obama accepted unlimited corporate donations for this year’s inauguration, triggering speculation about what he might do with any leftover funds.
“By posting donor information online, the Presidential Inaugural Committee is taking extra steps, beyond what’s required by federal law, to provide the public with fundraising information in a timely fashion,” committee spokeswoman Addie Whisenant said in an email.
PIC officials said this year’s fundraising guidelines are vital to helping the committee meet its target in the wake of the nation’s most expensive presidential campaign on record.
But Obama’s plans to scale back his second inauguration, which reportedly has a target budget of $50 million, make the rules doubly puzzling, some campaign finance experts say.
“This inaugural is accepting more money in higher amounts than ever before,” said Craig Engle, a partner with Arent Fox. “I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with that, as long as there are expenses that need to be defrayed. My quarrel always is with fundraising that, for lack of a better term, is off the books, that doesn’t have a very apparent purpose.”
In the past, leftover inaugural funds have gone to presidential libraries, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Obama’s more relaxed fundraising rules are laying the groundwork for his post-White House library and philanthropic activities, presidential advisers recently told Bloomberg.
Past libraries and foundations have been lucrative endeavors: The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library raised $41.8 million in 2010, according to its 990 tax form from that year, and had total assets worth $249.4 million. The William J. Clinton Foundation raised $138 million that same year and has close to $190 million in total assets.
Obama’s inauguration money could also help jump-start the group known until now as Obama for America, which organizers will reportedly relaunch Jan. 20 as a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit to be dubbed Organizing for Action.
“The inaugural committee never has to report how it spends its money; the 501(c)(4) would never have to report its donors,” said Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation’s reporting group. “So I could envision a scenario where, if the PIC ends up with a surplus, they could just roll it into OFA.”
Obama’s campaign consultants may also be waiting in the wings, Engle said. Many consultants charge below retail prices during the campaign in the hopes that they will play a role in the inauguration, he said. But he acknowledged that this theory, like all the others, would be hard to prove.
“When there isn’t disclosure, there is unhealthy speculation,” Engle noted. “And you end up having to defend your undisclosed actions, rather than to get on with the business of your administration.”
An earlier version of this article credited the wrong publication for disclosing that some corporate inaugural funders had received government contracts. The newspaper was USA Today.