Paying Inauguaral Bills Buys Access to Bush

American companies with deep pockets and an even deeper interest in what goes on in Washington are footing most of the expected $40 million bill for President Bush’s inaugural bash.

Security costs aside, the president has said no taxpayer money will be involved in financing the lavish festivities celebrating his second inauguration this week, including a parade, candlelight dinners and nine inaugural balls.

Instead, the financial services industry, energy companies, automakers, drug giants, tobacco companies and wealthy individuals are picking up the tab, and getting a chance to rub shoulders with the politically powerful.

Major donors have contributed $24.9 million already, according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which lists them on its Web site at

Many giving to the inaugural celebrations have big issues on the boil in Washington, ranging from whether a portion of Social Security retirement contributions are privatized to renewed efforts to pass an energy bill that may open new areas to oil exploration.

Many givers also saw their executives and employees contributing to the Bush re-election campaign, and say this spending is as normal as voting in a democracy. While laws govern what individuals can give to a campaign, there are no limits on inaugural gifts from individuals or corporations, other than those imposed by the Presidential Inaugural Committee itself.

“Political participation by companies and associations in the U.S. is a normal course of business,” said Lauren Kerr, media advisor at Exxon Mobil Corp., when asked why the company had given $250,000 — the top amount the committee accepts.

Some companies acknowledge that financing parties is a good way to join the festivities and gain access to a broad range of U.S. policymakers who will be there. Corporations also gave heavily to the first inauguration of Democrat Bill Clinton, but controversy over sponsorship curbed 1997’s festivities.

“It does give us an opportunity to interact with those that are in the government, those that are in the administration, those that are in the Congress, and those that are in the judiciary, and policymakers that are involved with the process in Washington,” said Mike Moran, a spokesman for Ford Motor Co., another $250,000 donor.

Those who gave the top amount are receiving tickets to most inaugural events, plus lunch with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. So far, 52 companies and individuals have chipped in $250,000, organizers say.

Donors of $100,000 get tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, parade and balls.

Energy companies such as ExxonMobil are watching the energy bill that stalled in the previous Congress; Republicans say they will make it a priority again in the new session. Other energy companies who gave $250,000 to the inauguration include ChevronTexaco and Occidental Petroleum .

The financial services industry, a likely beneficiary of private social security accounts, is also represented. Goldman Sachs Group, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley all gave $100,000.

Automakers like Ford are affected by a vast array of regulatory and policy issues in Washington, not least of all rising pension costs. The Bush administration last week proposed that companies with traditional pensions fund them better and pay higher premiums to insure them.

Ford employees also gave the Bush 2004 campaign $72,440, says the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks donations. The automaker will throw its own party on Thursday at the Philips Collection art gallery. Members of Congress, cabinet level members and some members of the judiciary have been invited.

Rival express deliverers, FedEx Corp. and UPS Inc. , each donated $250,000 to the inaugural committee. UPS says it has given generously to inaugurals before and spokesman David Bolger said the company is showing a bipartisan spirit.

But UPS and FedEx have strong interests in trade, security and regulatory policies, like new shipping routes, overseas competition and the overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service.

Even companies that have been sued by the federal government are donating to the Bush inaugural. Altria Group Inc., the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris, is a $250,000 donor. It also gave the Bush 2004 campaign nearly $39,000, the Center for Responsive Politics said.

The company is among several cigarette makers being tried in a lawsuit first brought in 1999 by the Clinton Justice Department that seeks $280 billion in past profits.