Inaugural Planners Ask K St. to Increase Efforts

Posted January 7, 2005 at 6:40pm

With time running out before President Bush’s swearing-in, members of the the Presidential Inaugural Committee are reaching out to their allies on K Street for help in financing one of the most expensive inaugurations in history.

Inaugural planners hope to raise about $40 million for the weeklong series of events surrounding Bush’s swearing-in. As of Friday afternoon, the tally from major donors was more than $17 million, although that number does not include money raised from memorabilia and individual parade and ticket sales.

Three lobbyists confirmed in interviews that senior inaugural fundraisers last week called Republican lobbyists and asked them to encourage potential corporate sponsors to buy ticket packages to inaugural events. The lobbyists, speaking anonymously, said they think officials were calling because the committee had fallen short in its fundraising efforts.

“They just said they hadn’t met their targets yet, and they were redoubling their efforts to raise money, encouraging people to buy packages,” said one Republican lobbyist whose firm received a call.

Planners behind the inaugural events thought corporations, barred since 2002 from freely contributing to national political parties, would be eager to help pay for the inauguration, according to another Republican lobbyist, who also received a call last week.

“We even told them, ‘This is not going to be hard. You can do it in a week,’” he said. “The assumption was, wrongly, that people would call and say, ‘Where do you want my money?’ Since then I’ve called people who didn’t even know where to contribute.”

The lobbyist, himself a Bush-Cheney ’04 fundraiser, said a “bunch of people,” including Mercer Reynolds, one of the national co-chairmen of the inaugural committee, were on the phone to Republican allies last week.

Inaugural officials assert that no problem exists.

“We’re on track with where we thought we’d be,” said Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “We’ve seen tremendous enthusiasm from people who want to contribute to the success of a major event in our history.”

She said inaugural planners have been making calls to supporters “as part of our regular fundraising outreach.”

One Republican lobbyist also brushed aside the suggestion the inaugural committee was having trouble meeting its targets.

“The people raising money for the inaugural are the senior leadership of the Bush-Cheney fundraising juggernaut,” he said. “These people know how to raise money — they’ve proven it.”

Charlie Black, a Republican lobbyist and longtime Bush adviser, said he wouldn’t be surprised if inaugural planners had made an appeal to lobbyists.

“It’s always a difficult undertaking to put on an inauguration,” he said, noting the shortened time frame. “It always takes a pretty serious effort right up to the end.”

But Black added that while he has not been involved with planning work this month, he has spoken recently with someone close to the effort, and he “didn’t get the impression there would be any problem getting the money.”

The committee is relying entirely on private money to cover the costs of the events.

As of Friday, 42 corporations or individuals had ponied up the maximum $250,000 contribution. For that amount, a donor becomes an “underwriter” and gets access to eight of the nine official balls, two tickets to a lunch with the president and vice president and 20 tickets to a candlelight dinner at which the president and vice president will make an appearance.

The ranks of underwriters include Home Depot Inc., Time Warner Inc., AT&T and ExxonMobil Corp.

Another 60 have given $100,000, enough to become “sponsors” and buy admittance to the eight balls but not the lunch or dinner.

They include Coca Cola Co., Boeing Co., Union Pacific Corp. and Qualcomm Inc.