Inaugural fund-raising exceeds $53m

Obama gala committee set $45m budget

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / January 30, 2009
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President Obama's inaugural committee raised far more than its fund-raising goal, taking in well over $53 million, much of it from 458 elite donors who kicked in $50,000 apiece.

Overall, the committee reports it has received at least $48 million in donations from about 217,000 individuals, most of whom gave small amounts, plus more than $5 million in television fees and other revenues.

The committee set a budget of roughly $45 million for the gala events last week, meaning there could be a surplus of at least $8 million in donations from individuals. The White House press office and the Obama inaugural committee, a nonprofit corporation, did not respond to calls from the Globe requesting information about the disposition of a potential surplus. The committee, which is not required to report its expenditures, effectively shut down late last week.

The Clinton inaugural committees generated surpluses in 1993 and 1997, though the amounts were never disclosed publicly. However, last month in releasing a list of its donors, the William J. Clinton Foundation, which oversees the presidential library and philanthropic projects, reported receiving between $1 million and $5 million from his inaugural committee.

Through last week, the Obama committee had posted the names of more than 7,400 contributors who gave $200 or more, totaling $41.4 million. Before departing as committee spokesman last Friday, Brent Colburn said that besides those larger-dollar donors, "just under 210,000 donors gave less than $200, with an average contribution of about $30." That would translate into another $6.3 million in smaller-dollar contributions.

By law, the committee must file a report by April 20 with the Federal Election Commission listing contributors of $200 or more. Colburn said it hasn't been determined if it would include the names of those who gave less than $200.

Roughly half the total - $22.9 million - was in $50,000 donations, the limit set by the Obama committee, which also barred donations from corporations, political action committees, lobbyists, and labor unions.

But the array of contributors reflects the diversity of support for Obama, whose campaign shattered fund-raising records using an extensive Internet network. Donors ranged from law firms, special interests, and regulated industries that deal with government to celebrities, philanthropists, activists, and ordinary people who identified themselves in ways that reflect the times.

Under the "employer" category, a Charlotte, N.C., woman who donated $250, wrote: "None - had to take early retirement." A Laurel Springs, N.J., woman, who also gave $250, described herself as "Unemployed mom of 36 Yr old Downs adult." A $200 donor from Palo Alto, Calif., described her employer as "Self - but Little or no Work."

Entertainment industry figures contributed several million dollars, including a total of $275,000 from Steven Spielberg and four others from Dreamworks companies, and $50,000 each from directors Ron Howard and George Lucas, actors Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith, Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sharon Stone, and singer-record producer Sean Combs.

Other major sources of contributions are employees of Google (21 donors, $166,000), Microsoft (17 donors, $157,000), Oracle (seven donors, $57,000), Yahoo (five donors, $65,050), and $50,000 apiece from global financier George Soros and four of his family members.

Dozens of individuals from financial services, private equity, and hedge fund companies also contributed the maximum, and seven officials from Citibank, which has received federal bailout funds, gave a combined $139,475.

Four Native American tribes also gave $50,000 apiece.

A review by the Globe also identified executives and employees of about 45 firms that do significant contract work for the federal government and who donated a combined $646,000 to the inaugural committee. Most of the companies are in the Washington area, many are minority-owned, and they provide technical or support services to military and civilian agencies.

Earl W. Stafford, founder and CEO of Unitech of Centreville, Va., a provider of training and simulation exercises to the armed forces and other agencies, not only donated $50,000 to the inaugural committee but spent about $1 million from his charitable foundation to pay for hotel rooms and other amenities so that 300 disadvantaged supporters of Obama could attend the inauguration.

"My donation to the Inaugural Committee had absolutely nothing to do with business," said Stafford, whose company was purchased by giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. in the past month for an undisclosed sum. "This was an opportunity to show my support for this historic moment in America, as well as the benefit to receive tickets for several of the Inaugural events, including seats to the swearing-in ceremony, the inaugural parade, and some of the inaugural balls."

Don Smith, founder and head of Hard Light Consulting Group in Washington, which does government contract work, said he gave $50,000 because "I wanted my family and friends to be there with me and be a part of history." Officials in the Obama campaign, he said, "don't know me as Hard Light, they know me as Don Smith." He said he and his children knocked on doors and made phone calls for Obama during the campaign.

Except for a ban on money from foreign nationals, there are no statutory limits on the amounts or source of contributions for inaugural ceremonies.

Four years ago, the second Bush inaugural committee raised $42.3 million from about 15,000 donors, ranging from individuals who gave $1 to corporations that gave up to $250,000, the cap set by the Bush committee.

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