After Obama Decided to Sell The Inaugural to Corporations, Did He Even Make His Sales Quota?

Not to bring anybody down from the post-inaugural pink cloud, but possibly not (or, alternatively, so). In fact, the whole picture of how the Inaugural got financed seems a little sketchy.

The inaugural is being run by the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), and we don’t know what PIC’s budget is. ABC:

The PIC also won’t say how much they have already collected or even what their goal was. [Brent Colburn, communications director for the PIC] explained [sic] that these are “moving budgets,” which won’t stabilize until after the inauguration.

Oh well. Although it does seem that the budgets could have been stabilizing in a downward direction: “Obama Inaugural Balls Limited To Two”. We also don’t know if PIC met their sales goal, whatever it might have been. Frederick News Post:

Asked about the committee’s goal for donations, Colburn declined to specify a figure but said the PIC is “on track to meet it.” “We feel very comfortable with our numbers,” he said.

Oh well. In fact, the whole PIC project has been marked by a lack of transparency; their site* publishes names of “benefactors” without amounts or even addresses. Or corporate affiliations. Guardian News:

“Here’s a guy who four years ago was Mr Transparency, vowing to change the way business was done in Washington, and now it all looks very much as though its business as usual once again. That’s puzzling,” [oh?] said the [Sunlight] foundation’s Kathy Kiely.

Not only is Obama inviting huge sums from individuals and corporations alike, he has also refused to disclose details on the sums given by donors and has only belatedly agreed to release their names. For transparency campaigners, Obama’s aggressive pursuit of cash takes some of the shine off a great celebration of the peaceful democratic transfer of power.

And cash in rawther large quantities:

Four years ago, inaugural contributions were capped at $50,000. This time? Oh, don’t stop. Please don’t stop. The Presidential Inaugural Committee was offering packages for between $10,000 and $1 million — check out the invites here.

Here’s Obama railing on Citizens United during 2010. Go to about the 2:15 minute mark in the speech for the reference:

Oh well. “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”

To be fair, Obama’s not soliciting huge sums from everybody; the PIC “store” — run by the reassuringly named Financial Innovations, Inc. — has plenty of tsotchkes. Still, even the case-hardened reporters at Pravda seem a little unsettled:

Four years ago, promising a new openness, the president banned corporate giving to the inauguration, limited gifts from individuals to $50,000 and released a full accounting of donations. This year, the sky’s the limit on gifts, corporations are good people [“my friend”] and the official roster of donors won’t include addresses or amounts for up to 90 days [how convenient].  … Administration officials have said the loosened donation rules were designed to reach out to [extort from] businesses whose executives felt spurned in the first term and to ease pressure on Democratic donors who feel squeezed dry after the campaign.

“Squeezed dry.” Pretty vivid. So, just suppose PIC squeezes enough people hard enough and ends up with a surplus? Roll Call:

President Barack Obama’s decision to collect unlimited corporate cash for his inauguration, and to disclose less about donors than he did four years ago, has triggered broad speculation about what he really plans to do with the money. Theories range from the claim that Obama is getting a jump-start on funding his presidential library to conjecture that leftover campaign cash will prop up his grass-roots organizing operation, reportedly to be renamed Organizing for Action. Some say that it may even line the pockets of loyal campaign consultants. 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.

We can’t be sure who the PIC donors are. We don’t know the interests they represent. We don’t know how much they gave. We don’t know the total amount given. We don’t know where the money went. We don’t know how much PIC hoped to collect. And we don’t know how PIC’s going to use any surplus. Walking around money? Because it sure sounds like a slush fund to me. Oh well.

So although PIC spokeshole Colburn may be “comfortable” about his “numbers,” I can’t imagine why anyone else would be. Actually, I’d be happy if his evasions meant that Obama didn’t squeeze another cohort of good citizens dry, because that would mean a corrupt project didn’t even succeed in its own terms. Second prize is a set of steak knives

NOTE * I think this is my favorite piece of HTML markup ever. From the PIC site:

  class="hero-link hero-link-wide"
  title="Thank You"
  <img src="...homeThanks-2.jpg" alt="Thank You">

And how do people become “heroes”? Why, by clicking the link and signing up for the mailing list [snort]. Why do I think the White House Drupal team didn’t put this site together?

UPDATE Thanks to reader CK for pointing out that “hero” is the jargon these days for huge honkin’ banner. So I reached the snarky yet correct conclusion that data collection is everything to these guys, but from a false premise. Whoops!

NOTE Oh, the Maine organization that used to sponsor our event was priced out, so Portland’s Preti, Flaherty — I won’t say “provincial-grade fixers” but feel free to think it — had to wangle our venue from the New Zealand embassy. What are we, hobbits? But don’t worry! I feel as represented as I ever did!

NOTE Off topic, but can anybody tell me what “bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time” actually means? Is it grammatical? It reminds me of nothing so much as another famous word salad, the “Lord Kitchener Victory Speech” in Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him: “[T]o make life whole, it’s as easy as a bridge!” (video).

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Conscience of a Conservative

    Too much gala, especially for a 2nd term all at tax-payer expense. I get the being sworn in again, but the rest is unnecessary and costly.

  2. Min

    Obama Inaugural Balls Limited to Two?

    Hmmm. Must be the Left Ball and the Right Ball.

    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. ;))

  3. Jesper

    Time to plan for life/career after presidency?

    A 2nd term president knows that he will not stand for re-election so he can be seen as choosing between two things:

    -doing what is necessary and right ignoring any ill-effects on ratings
    -doing what will ensure a good financial future ignoring any ill-effect on ratings

    Swedish politicians make little money while in office but once they leave public office and have made some powerful friends among private businesses then they do very well financially. Not sure if it is the same in the US?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Hillary Clinton had some nicer jobs, but Bill Clinton’s highest paying job until he became President was Governor of Arkansas which came in around $50,000 a year. I think his Presidential income was $250k a year. The guy dropped around $5 million on his daughter’s wedding despite not holding a real job. He did go through a 20 year period without paying for housing and probably vehicles as Governor and President which is probably pretty nice, and vacations…I mean dockets were free. The guy made a fortune after he left office.

      1. Jesper

        Clinton might have made some friends who helped him out after his 2nd term by doing this:

        Will Obama use his 2nd term to make friends with potential future employers (like it looks like Clinton might possibly have done) or will he make himself a persona non grata with them?

        A classic job interview question: ‘Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years’? might need to be asked of the guy who will be out of his current job in 4 years time….

  4. jake chase

    The more of a creep a politician becomes the more cash he needs. I see no limits to this guy’s need for cash. I expect he will use a good deal of it to build a monument to himself.

    Well, at least the construction workers will get paid something.

  5. Middle Seaman

    Ex politician of decent standing make tons of money in all democratic systems of today. Either they lobby or give “talks” for obscene amounts of money. Today democratic systems are owned and operated by the rich.

    Obama, more than even W, is a tool of Wall Street. His inauguration speech notwithstanding, he intends to sell us down the river.

  6. Clive

    What with Beyoncé and everything, watching this made me think that the whole thing was some kind of really bad movie.

    1. mk

      I was surprised by the pick. I thought Beyonce was to help the Obama’s with the Let’s Move campaign, but then Pepsi offered Beyonce $50 Million to help sell sugar drinks to kids instead. I would have felt betrayed in their place, but not the Obamas I guess…

  7. Jane

    If you take the ‘bridge’ quote in context, I think he’s emphasizing that the ideal of American life, that ‘all men are created equal’, has never been the reality; either today or in the past, and, that it is that ‘ideal’ that lit a fire under the founding fathers and for which ‘the patriots of 1776’ fought. i.e. true patriots fight for the equality of all, not in support of the few but the many.

    It may also be a reference to the futility of trying to ‘build a bridge over troubled [Republican/Democrat] waters’; better to build a bridge between the ideal and the real … to forgo efforts at conciliation and move forward on the real patriots path.

    It doesn’t strike me as ‘a word salad’ but as an attempt to reshape the debate.

    1. Ms G

      Re (Inaugural) Balls and Chutzpah

      PIC: ” … these are “moving budgets,” which won’t stabilize until after the inauguration.”

      Ms G: “Mr. President, could you please wave your magic wand and declare the US Budget a “moving budget” that way there’s never a deficit and you never have to make us do “shared sacrifice” and you won’t have to viciously slash our safety net anymore.”

      (Lambert, Very Nicely Done.)

    2. Ms G

      @Jane. I’m of the view that the high-minded-sounding language was, indeed, word salad. But putting that aside.

      I do feel, quite strongly, that the President’s time might be better spent (as it might have in the last four years) “building a bridge” between his passionate campaign promises and his actions. As in: walking the talk, or putting your actions where your mouth is. Or just stop lying about who you are.

      WIth yesterday’s speeches and his Black Box Inaugural Ball Fund all he’s done is build (more) bridges to the .01% (as if there was anymore work for him to do in that department). And he certainly looked out at all of us 99%’ers as though he were an Archduke of Austria hurrying to the Grand Ball Room in Vienna to swirl with Michelle to the sounds of Strauss waltzes.

      1. Ms G

        Edit/Addition: “… Putting your MONEY(*) where your mouth is.”

        (*) So, O, how ’bout you share some of those Ball Dollars … spread the wealth, Man.

      2. ambrit

        Dear Ms G;
        So, let’s hope the Archduke Barak don’t take any trips to Sarajevo. (Definitely out for Michelle. The previous Archdukes wife ‘got it’ at Sarajevo too.)

    3. patricia

      “Word salad” was originally defined as incomprehensible sentence construction of schizophrenics. Our politicians have Schizophrenia Deliberatus, a highly contagious disease caused by the Propaganda Virus. On the North American continent, scientists suggest it originated along the Potomac River and the sea swamps around its mouth. However, it is now endemic to the land mass.

      A prime symptom of this virus is a chronic compulsion to deform rather than reshape any debate entered. Mythologists have proposed that it is the disease behind the Biblical story of Babel.

      1. Ms G

        “Schizophrenia Deliberatus” (said to have originated at the muddy mouth of the Potomac).

        Lexicoinage of the week!

      2. patricia

        “Oftentimes, we live in a processed world, you know, people focus on the process and not results.”
        (George W. Bush, Wash DC, May 29, 2003)

    4. JustMeAgaiN

      Here’s an altogether better quote for the times:

      Money talks and bullshit walks.

      Now there’s some change you can actually believe in! Four more years of “soaring” rhetoric and nickel platitudes, as the first white black president phones it in for appearances sake and laughs all the way to the ultimate payoff. What a bullshit artist!

      I wonder, do they identify these guys at birth now and groom them all the way to maturity like show dogs? Maybe some prenatal subliminal conditioning as well? Somebody’s obviously exercising Pavlovian control over this shyster.

      1. Ms G

        More like the way in Tibet when a Lama dies search parties spread out across the land to find his (it’s always a “he”) reincarnation amongst new borns.

    5. mac

      I think at the time the “all men are created equal” really refers to station in life, royalty and the like.
      It is certainly true in a broader sense but at that time and place I think it was limited to the above.

    6. Ramon Creager

      What I understand when I read that “bridge” line is that it is just another fancier way to repeat the old, worn-out, overused excuse to pawn off really terrible legislation on us as “progressive”: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the possible.”

  8. Norman

    Reshaping the debate. Perhaps. We will see soon enough, especially if the seniors have to resort to fighting over who gets the fresh soft cat food, the cats or . . . . . . . .!

  9. Ms G

    Inaugural Ball(s) Funds — Leftovers

    “Mr. President, Will you donate the leftover cash from your two inaugural balls fund raising to my nonprofit social welfare organization — we give money to struggling Americans for things like medical bills, house repairs, rent and … food,”

      1. Ms G

        “… Just maybe one of their [Madison, Lincoln, Jefferson, …] manservants or kitchen cleaners or cotton pickers or nannies. So, Mr. President, can you spare one of your Ball Dimes?”

        (Perfect link. Thk you!)

    1. Jill

      Ms. G, That just won the prize on how to close down the moving budget!

      Sorry, the budget has stopped moving. The account is closed and we are unable to distribute money at this time!

      1. Ms G

        You’re right. God’s Blood, Foiled Again!
        It really is a catch-22 with that “money system” thing, isn’t it?

  10. Ms G

    NEWSFLASH! A new currency has appeared in the United States of America: Ball Bucks! These are hard to get your hands on unless you can throw a ball and charge lots of dollars to your guests. (Filed under “Strange But True, Daily Oddities.”)

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Dreams to Drones is where meaning meets reality for Obama, and it’s not only his equalizer (Obama’s particular and peculiar version of democracy), but also, in it’s extreme irony and violence so emblematic of his peace prize presidency, his legacy. Something to inspire his apologists with their own explanatory word salads for future generations.

    1. wanderindiana

      One general comment:

      Kurgan sounds more and more like Safire — a propagandist and apologist for yet another corrupt administration.

      Seeing the declaration of victory on the short extension of the debt ceiling and then Monday’s column makes me feel all the criticism was just for show, to bring the weak-minded doubters back in the fold, cult-style.

      As it stands, I am left doubting whether Krugman’s criticisms were ever sincere.

      1. wanderindiana

        Darn spell-correcting iPad… Kurgan indeed!


        And it tried to correct me again! Apple is in on it, I swear! ;-)

    2. Nathanael

      Krugman is still optimistic about the survival of the system.

      In reality, the survival of the system is not an option any more. Bush made it hard; Obama made it impossible.

  11. CK

    RE: Hero link. Hero is a term used in web design, EG Hero Module. It would usually be the featured image/story/whatever. The link off a Hero Module would then be the Hero Link.

  12. bstoll

    A big hats off to the cleanup crew that had to shovel out the massive bullshit from the inagural podium area.

  13. Abe, NYC

    Some balls are held for charity and some for fancy dress,
    But when they’re held for pleasure they’re the balls that I like best.
    My balls are always bouncing to the left and to the right,
    It’s my belief that my big balls should be held every night.

    1. Mark P.

      That’s probably unfair to Reagan who — for all his faults — was never so corrupt and small-minded, as I recall the historical record.

  14. abelenkpe

    Yeah he should have skipped the entire affair given todays economy. Because y’know that’s what republicans would have done had they won.

  15. Lydia Pennyfeather

    Agree with CK. I like political snark as much as the next guy, but in web design parlance, a “hero” often is the name for the main image on a page. Doesn’t have much to do with the literal meaning of the word, just its prominence on the page.

    That is all.

    1. Aquifer

      “Doesn’t have much to do with the literal meaning of the word, just its prominence on the page”

      Well, all the more a perfect description of O, doncha think?

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thanks for reminding me on the terminology (I’m much more on the data side of things, and I’m also a sucker for semantic markup. I just got the wrong semantics). That said, the site is a mediocre knockoff of the White House site (which I hate, but for different reasons) and the constant theme of collecting data data data data so we can sell you (on) something later is the reason the “hero” is there, and one of the most annoying things about the permanent Obama campaign generally.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Don’t worry. OFA will go away as swiftly as it did four years ago when they made hoopla about OFA lasting forever.

  16. Lil'D

    Sheesh, what a bunch of whiners. Clearly not perfect, mistakes have been made, drones released, fraudsters bailed out. But what options are there?

    We’ll see what really happens, but the rhetoric moved at least a nudge in the correct direction on a lot of topics.

    And if we don’t make headway on climate change, it could be 1000 generations before humanity, or its successor species, makes any progress…

    1. Yves Smith

      Obama is big time pro fracking. Fracking releases methane, which depending what metric you use, is 40 to 72 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. He’s not serious about climate change. “Green energy” won’t make anywhere enough difference in enough time. The only thing that might is conservation.

  17. Don Lowell

    Jeez Louise you all sound like the whiner’s at Market Ticker. Not to worry I’m sure the pubs will find a way to steal the next election. Big spending will then be back in vogue.

  18. wanderindiana

    “bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time” means:

    — aim lower.

    — expect less.

    — dream little dreams.

    — show more love to your corporate overlords and maybe you’ll get a very small bone thrown your way.

  19. Earlofhuntingdon

    One would think that, in a democracy, the amounts spent (by whom, on what), would be matters mandatorily in the public domain. Then, again, this is the Obama administration, which sees nothing wrong and much to admire in its predecessor’s mistreatment of the Constitution and the public interest.

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