Inaugural donors stand to benefit from gifts

The upcoming $40 million inaugural party for President George W. Bush promises to be quite a spectacle, but it also promises big rewards to the hefty corporate sponsors of this affair.

That’s because the biggest contributors to this party are also the biggest government contractors, raking in at least $2.9 billion from the feds last year.

The top pledge allowed under government rules for the inaugural is $250,000. There are 44 corporations and individuals who have each kicked in that amount to boogie down in D.C. on Jan. 20. This will be the most expensive inaugural ever staged for a second-term president.

Scripps Howard News Service made a study of the Federal Procurement Data System computer files and found at least five of those fat cat donors got $286 million or more in government contracts last year. The files are maintained by the federal Office of Management and Budget.

Steven Weiss, of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group, observed: “This is something the public ought to be looking at. It’s a way for special interests to maximize their clout with the administration. They are hoping to extend their influence.”

Other donors have either legislative or regulatory questions before Congress or the White House this year. “When we look at the list of donors, we see a number of companies that have pending business, shall we say, before the administration,” said James Benton, research analyst for Common Cause, a public interest lobbying group. “The corporations will say it’s all about being a good corporate citizen, but it’s also about getting access and influence.”

The biggest federal contractor donor is United Technologies Corp.; last year it brought in active federal contracts worth $1.2 billion. The company makes Pratt & Whitney jet engines used in the F-22 Advanced Tactical Fighter. How many of these aircraft–at $35 million a copy–will be built remains undecided.

A United Technologies spokesman said the corporation wanted to show “strong support for a national tradition” by its donation.

Scott Seligman, a Washington spokesman for the company, said: “Presidential inaugurations transcend partisan politics. We’re delighted to do our part in a tangible way that helps make public tickets to inaugural events more affordable for everyone.” A D.C. resident said the public will be kept well away from the president’s swearing-in ceremony and most other events by some 6,000 law enforcement officers plus a large contingent of troops.

Some of the other top donors to Bush’s inaugural are: Exxon-Mobil Corp., which signed one deal for $390 million to furnish petroleum products to the Defense Logistics Agency. Exxon held 120 contracts amounting to at least $649 million for various goods and services.

Other energy-related donors are: T. Boone Pickens, Texas oilman and corporate raider; Richard Kinder, former head of Enron who now runs Southern Co., a giant natural gas and utility firm.

Then there is AT&T, which received contracts worth $366 million; Michael Dell of Dell Computer, with sales of $362 million, and Ford Motor Co., which had government sales of $286 million.

Special interest groups, say critics, have some other reasons for currying favor with the White House in addition to federal contracts. “Many of these groups are regulated industries that clearly want to influence how the government regulates them,” Weiss said.

“There are reasons to be concerned by all of this,” Benton said. “These people aren’t giving money from the bottom of their hearts. The bottom line is they want something, some kind of consideration.”

Donors this time are less Texas-focused than for Bush’s fund-raising program four years ago. This time, 21 donors from California gave $3.2 million, 15 from the District of Columbia gave $2.4 million, and Texans are third with 12 contributions totaling $1.6 million, followed by nine New Yorkers with $1.2 million in donations (

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