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Entries in inauguration (2)

Monday
Jan212013

Corporate Cash Helps Fund Obama Inauguration Festivities

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In reversing President Obama's position on accepting corporate sponsors for this weekend's official inaugural festivities, the official inaugural committee has permitted a number of companies with interests pending before the federal government to donate.

They include such familiar blue chip names as AT&T, Microsoft and Coca Cola, but also such lesser-known companies as United Therapeutics, a biotech firm based in Silver Spring, Maryland.

United Therapeutics has in recent years been lobbying the Food and Drug Administration, so far without great succes, to grant approval of a drug the company developed to treat a lung disorder. 

In October, when an FDA ruling questioned whether the oral version of the drug did anything to slow the progress of pulmonary arterial hypertension, the company's CEO told reporters that company executives would "continue using our best efforts to gain approval [of the version of the drug] … and we will focus on doing so within the next four years."

How political contributions figure into the company's strategy is unclear.  Andrew Fisher, the company's Chief Strategic Officer and Deputy General Counsel told ABC News in an email, "We're not providing any comment on this topic."

But United Therapeutics has been more aggressive than most in its support of Obama, and those contributions came at a time when the president softened his opposition to corporate money in politics.  This summer, after Obama backtracked on a ban against corporate money at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., United Therapeutics stepped up.

The biotech company was the sixth largest corporate donor to the administrative arm of the convention host committee, called New American City, Inc., only finishing behind such financial giants as Bank of America, AT&T and Duke Energy.  The company gave $600,000, according to contribution records.

The company's CEO has also been a major donor to the Democratic Party, and to Obama's campaign, giving more than $125,000 in the past four years.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which advocates for transparency in the way politics is financed, said the decision to allow corporate money is just one of several changes in the way Obama has approached financing inaugural events.  Gone also are self-imposed caps on the amounts that individuals can donate.  And, Krumholz said, the inaugural committee has back-tracked on the level of transparency displayed in 2009, when Obama was first sworn into office.

"This inauguration and, particularly the funding of it, stands in stark contrast to the previous inauguration," she said.

The changes are consistent with a subtle shift in the way Obama has handled touchstone issues surrounding money and politics.  Obama was once a critic, for instance, of the so-called Super PACs that were established to raise unlimited funds to support campaigns.  But in his 2012 reelection bid, Obama advisors set up an organization, Priorities USA, for just that purpose.

Krumholz said she believes corporate donors, in particular, warrant scrutiny.

"I think that with all these corporations, they are giving because they see that contributions to the inauguration, to the convention, to the campaigns, to all these different pots of money might be beneficial to their corporation and to their legislative policy agenda in Washington," Krumholz said.  "It's not natural for a corporation, which has to uphold and protect its bottom line, to be making contributions out of altruistic reasons or to support democracy.  They have reasons which I think bear scrutiny."

Krumholz's group researched the backgrounds of the corporate donors and found that more than 300 registered lobbyists worked on behalf of five large corporate donors to the inauguration -- AT&T Inc., Microsoft Corp., energy giant Southern Co., biotechnology firm Genentech and health plan manager Centene Corp. -- to influence legislation and government policy.

Parties other than the official inaugural balls are not covered by this money.  Dozens of other parties have private sponsorship.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has published the names of all of its donors on its website, though Krumholz notes that the list does not include basic identifying information, such as the donor's employer or address, and it does not say how much money any donor has given.

The list includes a number of the president's close friends and longtime supporters, as well as familiar Democratic Party patrons, including a number of labor unions.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the American Postal Workers Union, the International Association of Firefighters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, the Laborer's Union, the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, and the United Food & Commercial Workers, all ponied up with support.

A document identifying the rewards for major donors, first reported by The New York Times, spells out how those who provide the most money will have had greater access this weekend.  Individuals in the top package who gave $250,000 and institutional donors who gave $1 million are identified as "Washington" donors, (as opposed to "Adams" or "Jefferson" donors, who gave less) and are entitled to such perks as tickets to the "Co-Chairs Reception," entry to the "Road Ahead" meeting for the president's top supporters, "VIP tickets to the Candle Light Celebration at the National Building Museum" and two reserved bleacher seats for the Inaugural Parade.

Efforts to reach the inaugural committee this weekend have been unsuccessful.  According to the Sunlight Foundation, which has also been tracking money at the inaugural festivities, officials with the Presidential Inaugural Committee have been tight-lipped about the details of the finance effort.  They quoted Brent Colburn, communications director for the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee, as telling reporters that the committee, by listing donors on its website, has attempted "to go above and beyond that and add a level of transparency."

In December 2012, when ABC News first reported Obama's position switch on corporate donations, a spokesperson for the inaugural committee said all donors would be vetted and that donations from lobbyists or political action committees (PACs) will not be accepted.

"Our goal is to make sure that we will meet fundraising requirements for this civic event after the most expensive presidential campaign in history," spokesperson Addie Whisenant said then.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan202013

D.C. Residents Make Big Bucks Renting Homes to Inauguration Visitors

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- This weekend hundreds of thousands of Americans are flooding the nation’s capital, overtaking trains on the metro and annoyingly standing on the wrong side of the escalator. What better revenge for D.C. residents than charging exorbitant rates for those visitors to camp out in their studio apartments?

Jokes aside, some D.C. residents are making a pretty penny off inauguration attendees this weekend by renting out their spaces through social media sites.

Airbnb, a website that allows  people to rent their homes to travelers and vice versa, is expecting roughly 2,000 people to stay in D.C. to partake in the inauguration festivities using its service, up from 150 people in 2009.

Ellen Boomer, a freelance writer who started using the site in July, said she sees renting out her space as a way for her to make some money while out-of-towners experience a historic moment.

“I’m so close to the Capitol and the inauguration,” Boomer said. “Since I’m not going to the inauguration, why not let someone else enjoy the proximity and stay here?”

For $600 per night, a renter will be staying in her two-bath, two-bedroom, two-story home, about five blocks from Capitol Hill. Boomer said her client made the reservation about 10 weeks in advance – the night before Election Day.

Last week, some D.C. Craigslist users were banking on the idea that visitors might have procrastinated.

One poster listed her Dupont Circle apartment on Thursday and heard back from three interested parties by Friday afternoon.

Shar, who preferred to go by her first name since her apartment has a policy against this type of subleasing, advertised her “large, clean, sun-drenched, fifth-floor floor studio” for $179 per night.

Like many D.C. residents, Shar has no desire to brave the cold and crowds on Monday. Instead, she is staying at a friend’s apartment a few blocks away from her guests. The two plan to split the profits.

“We tried to price it reasonably,” Shar said. “We figured super rich people would already have somewhere to stay.”

Both Boomer and Shar offer certain conveniences not found in many run-of-the-mill hotels. Boomer leaves her guests baked goods, bottles of wine and fresh lavender from her garden. Shar’s ad said visitors could take advantage of free Wi-Fi and a Keurig one-cup coffee maker with K-cups.

“I was just trying to think if I were renting, what I would want,” Shar said. “Everything’s here, you don’t need anything extra.”

An Airbnb spokesperson said big events like the inauguration, where hotels often book up fast, drive more and more travelers to their site.

That means renters can drive up the price. For inauguration, Airbnb anticipates hosts will increase prices by 2.5 to four times the usual rate. A quick search shows rooms for the weekend in D.C. going for as high as $2,050.

Though Airbnb charges hosts a fee that Craigslist users avoid, it also offers a level of safety and comfort, with customer service agents available to help both guests and owners through their stay.

Shar didn’t have much of a plan for what to do if her clients trash or burglarize her place, as happened to an Airbnb user before the company upped its security.

“If it looks shady or feels shady, the deal’s off,” Shar said. “I don’t need money that bad.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio