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Analysts on the Fundraising Rules for Inauguration

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - January 14, 2013

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JUDY WOODRUFF: There's only one week left until Washington plays host to President Obama's second-term inauguration. The preparations on the west front of the CapitolBuilding are well under way, getting set for the president, hundreds of distinguished guests, and a huge crowd.

Celebrities will star at a series of special events, despite the fact that only about half the 1.8 million visitors who showed up for the historic first inaugural four years ago are expected.

Still, the president's private fund-raising goal for the festivities is about the same as 2009. Then, he raised $53 million from individual donations alone that were capped at $50,000 each.

This year, the Presidential Inaugural Committee plans to accept unlimited contributions from both individuals and corporations. The committee aims to raise $50 million.

In comparison, the second inauguration of George W. Bush rose over $42 million and took corporate donations of up to $250,000.

Late today, we asked Steve Kerrigan, the head of the Inaugural Committee, about criticism of how this event is being paid for this year.

STEPHEN KERRIGAN, Presidential Inaugural Committee: We are funding this event the same way as many civic events all around the country are funded, which is with individual and institutional donors who want to participate and make sure that this event goes off well, because they believe in this country and they believe in what the event represents.

The way we're doing this inaugural, the way we're planning it, and the focus we keep, which is on giving them as much access to it as possible, really is the most important thing to us. So, we sort of let all the other white noise go by the boards.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more behind the scenes of the inauguration, we turn to two reporters, Matea Gold of The Los Angeles Times, and Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press.

Welcome to you both.

MATEA GOLD, The Los Angeles Times: Thank you.

NEDRA PICKLER, The Associated Press: Good to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Matea, let me start with you.

Why did the president decide to allow unlimited individual corporate donations this year, when the last time, no corporate, and there were strict limits on the individual.

MATEA GOLD: Right, $50,000, individuals were capped.

Well, at its heart, it was a very pragmatic decision. The committee needs to raise $50 million in a pretty short amount of time. The donor base is really burnt out and exhausted after a campaign in which Obama raised a record $1.1 billion.

And I think they knew it was going to be a tough slog to raise this much this quickly. There's no question this really has disheartened advocates of campaign finance reform, who had hoped that Obama would use his second term to push for a lot more measures restricting the role of big money in politics, measures he didn't push for in his first term.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what's the reaction? Or, first of all, how is the fund-raising going?

MATEA GOLD: Well, right now, it looks like they still have a gap of less than $8 million to go. I think they probably have a little bit of a buffer, that they can produce the event with less than $50 million.

But they will likely hit that with a lot of hard work in the next few days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nedra, who are some of the people who are giving money in the corporations? What do we know so far about that?

NEDRA PICKLER: They're keeping an updated list on the Web site, but there's very little information.

We don't know who these people are, where they're from or even where they work. They're only a list of names, not the amounts that they're giving. And there are some fun examples, like there's a Samuel Jackson listed. But is that Samuel L. Jackson the actor, Sam Jackson in Akron, Ohio? We don't know.

But there are some familiar names on there. Some of the president's top bundlers from his campaign who raised the most money for him are on there. Some people who have come into the White House for meetings -- we have run at the AP that list of names that have donated against the lists of names of people who have been allowed to come into the White House to lobby. And there are some repeats.

And there are a handful of corporations. Not all of them have gotten exactly what they wanted out of the president. For instance, AT&T has donated. And they were turned away by this administration from their merger with T-Mobile.

So, there are a lot of -- but there are a lot of donors. And it's growing all the time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we said it's unlimited, but I guess it's a million dollars. There is a million-dollar limit. Is that right, or is it known?

NEDRA PICKLER: No, there's no limit to what anyone can donate. They're accepting any amount.

But they are sending out solicitations asking for donations of up to million dollars. Now, that would be unprecedented. There's never been anyone who has donated $1 million to an inaugural committee before.

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