Two companies, AT&T and Microsoft, helping to underwrite President Obama’s Jan. 21 inaugural festivities have multimillion-dollar contracts with the federal government, and a third stands to benefit financially from the new federal health care law being implemented during his second term.
A long-standing U.S. law bars federal contractors from spending to influence presidential and congressional elections, but few limits are imposed on post-election fundraising to pay for swearing-in festivities.
After refusing corporate money for his first inauguration, Obama reversed course last month and has taken donations from seven corporations, according to a list the inaugural committee recently posted to its website. They are a tiny fraction of the 417 inaugural “benefactors” announced to date, but include some big corporate figures.
Telecom giant AT&T, which spent more than $14 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of 2012, has been awarded more than $101 million in federal contracts in the current fiscal year, federal contracting data show.
Microsoft, which spent nearly $5.7 million on lobbying, has been awarded nearly $4.6 million in technology contracts with Homeland Security, the White House and several other agencies so far during this fiscal year.
Public Citizen, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, has sharply criticized Obama’s decision to take corporate money. “Such donations are more troubling when they come from companies that have significant ongoing business with the federal government,” said Robert Weissman, the group’s president. “They will expect a very good hearing regarding any concerns, complaints or aspirations they might have.”
In a statement, inaugural spokeswoman Addie Whisenat said the donations “fully comply with the laws governing contributions to an inaugural committee” and noted that Obama has imposed other restrictions not required by law, such as refusing donations from lobbyists and political action committees.
In addition, companies that took federal bailout money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program can’t donate unless they have repaid federal funds.
Microsoft officials declined to comment. Officials with AT&T did not return telephone calls Monday. Its political action committee donated to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign.
Another corporate donor, Centene Corp., manages health insurance programs for more than a dozen states. Those programs include Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance system for the poor, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates insurance coverage will be expanded to 7 million more Americans in both programs next year as the new federal health care law takes effect.
Centene President and CEO Michael Neidorff donated more than $66,000 in the 2012 election to Obama and the Democratic National Committee and $25,000 to the Republican National Committee. Company officials did not respond to telephone calls and e-mails Monday.
Another company with health care interests, Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug firm, Roche, also donated.
“Genentech works proactively to ensure that the company plays a positive role in the communities in which we live and operate,” the company said in a statement. “Genentech is proud to provide support for the presidential inauguration.”
Inaugural officials have not said how much the corporations and individuals have donated, but must publicly release that information 90 days after the event in a report to the Federal Election Commission.
In the meantime, the committee has voluntarily released an initial list of donors, which includes anyone who has contributed at least $200. It includes wealthy Democratic contributors, such as Alida Rockefeller Messinger, a Standard Oil heir who last year donated $1 million to a pro-Obama super PAC.
The other corporate donors listed by the committee: Financial Innovation, a political mass marketing firm run by Mark Weiner, an Obama fundraiser; Stream Line Circle; and Whittier Trust Co., a California investment management firm. Steve Anderson, a Whittier executive, said the firm did not donate but handled a contribution for a client, whom he declined to name.
Inaugural committee officials say they will release the names of additional donors on a regular basis.
Obama is seeking big donations for the inaugural event, which includes the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and inaugural balls. Companies and institutions that give $1 million will be rewarded with tickets to VIP receptions, reserved bleacher seats from which to watch the parade and four inaugural ball tickets. Perks for corporate donors at the $100,000 level include two tickets to the ball.
Fredreka Schouten reports for USA Today.