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.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Matea, what are folks getting in turn for the money? What — is there some kind of package that is put together?
MATEA GOLD: Sure. There are packages. And they’re graded accordingly to how much you give.
Tickets to the inaugural balls are pretty much the hottest commodity. There’s only two inaugural balls, official inaugural balls that the president and the first lady will be attending, as opposed to 10 four years ago. Bleacher — reserve bleacher seats for the parade.
There is going to be a whole host of events inauguration weekend, a children’s concert, special receptions for top donors.
And so there definitely is going to be access for big donors. And that’s really the criticism from advocates of campaign finance reform, that these folks, especially the corporations, are giving big money because they want preferential treatment down the line in return.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And — but yet, Nedra, as you’re saying, they haven’t necessarily gotten it in the past. Does this say they’re hoping to get it in the future?
NEDRA PICKLER: Who knows? That could be the case. They might want to make better friends with President Obama.
One thing I should note, too, is that we will know the full information on these donors 90 days after the inauguration. And the Inaugural Committee is going above what’s required by the law in putting these names out at all, but it would be nice to have a little bit more information.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do we know about how the money is spent? If this inauguration is only drawing, what are they saying, 800,000 people, half of the number who came the last time, why are they needing to raise almost as much money? What do we know about that?
MATEA GOLD: Well, they’re — putting a production on, on the Mall for 800,000 people is still no small feat. There is the big Jumbotron screens.
There is the parade itself, which is a big logistical production. There are these two inaugural balls.
And a new addition this year is this national day of service they have on Saturday, in which they’re holding events all over the country to really — in what is part of the spirit of what they’re trying to make this inauguration about.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Asking people to do volunteer work in their communities.
MATEA GOLD: Correct.
NEDRA PICKLER: That’s no small cost, actually. It is something they did four years ago, but this time they’re greatly expanding it.
They actually staff on the ground in every state to coordinate this. It’s basically kind of a vehicle to take their extensive campaign staff and put them towards this effort. They have about 550 people that are working on this inaugural weekend.
And, also, the balls themselves, he cut the number of balls down from 10 to two, but these are extraordinary productions, these balls. One of them is expected to draw 35,000 to 40,000 people across the entire exhibit space of the WashingtonConvention Center. That was a space that four years ago had six balls in it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s not just any old party…
NEDRA PICKLER: Right. Right. This is a big party.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … that you would be going to.
I wanted to — Matea, what about — you know, we just heard from Steve Kerrigan saying it’s all about access and we’re not really paying attention to the criticism.
MATEA GOLD: Right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But are they troubled about by the fact that this was the president who came into office saying he was going to do things differently?
MATEA GOLD: Well, I mean, I think you have to judge them on what they do.
It’s clear from our reporting that campaign finance reform is not going to be an immediate part of the president’s agenda right now. So, if this was something that was really troubling them, I think they probably would be taking action on that front.
I think they knew they were going to get criticized for the reversal specifically on corporate donations.
But in a lot of ways, this president has had to compromise when it comes to money and politics on several different occasions. He endorsed a super PAC that advocated on his behalf in the election, after criticizing such groups. I think this is another example like that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question, Nedra.
For anybody who is watching who is trying to decide whether they should come to the inaugural or not, are there still tickets available? how does — is participation possible if somebody hasn’t planned by now?
NEDRA PICKLER: Absolutely.
This is actually a great opportunity for someone who was scared away by the big crowds last time. They’re expecting a million less people to turn out that day, not to mention that the weather forecast is for about — to be about 20 degrees warmer than it was four years ago. So, there’s open space on the Mall. Anything past Third Street down the National Mall, you can come without a ticket.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And those of us who live here, we love the traffic and the additional…
JUDY WOODRUFF: … don’t we?
Nedra Pickler, Matea Gold, thank you very much.
MATEA GOLD: Our pleasure.
NEDRA PICKLER: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: You can follow Inauguration Day on our Web site. We will live-stream all the main events, plus host a live blog filled with the sights and sounds from the capital.