Corporate America Pours in Millions to Fund President Bush’s Second Inauguration

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Democracy Now! broadcasts from Washington DC where President George W Bush is being sworn in for a second term. The inauguration is expected to be the most lavish in history, with an estimated $40 million to be spent over four days of celebrations–and the hefty price is being footed largely by U.S. corporations. We speak with Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer-advocacy organization Public Citizen which has analyzed the contribution records released by Bush’s inaugural committee. [includes rush transcript]

This is Democracy Now!'s special coverage of inauguration 2005–the Battle for Democracy, broadcasting from Washington DC where President George W Bush is being sworn in for a second term. Bush begins his second term with an approval rating of around 50 percent–that's less than any other post World War II second term inauguration.

Washington DC is filled with more than 7,000 law enforcement agents from over 100 federal, state and local agencies; roadblocks have been set up across DC and large portions of the city have been closed off ahead of the inaugural parade. Coast Guard cutters are stationed in the Potomac River. Anti-aircraft missiles are stationed near the Capitol. Sharpshooters will be positioned on rooftops. More than 100 city blocks will be closed to traffic. And manhole covers on Pennsylvania Avenue have been welded shut.

The inauguration is expected to be the most lavish in history. An estimated $40 to 60 million will be spent over these four days of celebrations which include nine inaugural balls, three candlelight dinners, a rock concert, extravagant receptions and numerous other parties.

The big money celebrations were in full swing last night with a Black Gold and Cowboy Boots ball. Protesters have also poured into the city and will hold a number of rallies, marches and direct actions throughout the day. Activists have set up a convergence space where they held planning meetings late into the night and the Independent Media Center has set up a newsroom where they will be distributing reports from the streets throughout the day.

The official inaugural ceremonies begin with a worship service at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House. At noon, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist will administer the oath of office, making his first official appearance since beginning treatment for thyroid cancer in October. Vice President Dick Cheney will take his oath from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, marking just the fourth time in U.S. history that the House speaker has been called on to perform that task.

After a 21-gun salute, Bush is to give a 17-minute speech that will focus on the theme of freedom. According to prepared remarks, Bush will say, “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

There has been a great deal of controversy ahead of Bush’s inauguration over the massive amount of money being poured into the event, particularly in light of the Asian tsunami disaster and the ongoing occupation of Iraq. The hefty price of the inauguration is being footed largely by US corporations. While federal elections law prohibits corporate contributions to presidential campaigns, presidential inaugural fundraising is unrestricted. And Corporate America has pumped in tens of millions. The consumer-advocacy organization Public Citizen has done an analysis of the contribution records released by Bush’s inaugural committee.

  • Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer-advocacy organization Public Citizen.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by the president of Public Citizen, Joan Claybrook. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Well, can you tell us who is paying for this inauguration?

JOAN CLAYBROOK: Well, corporate America is paying for it. 96% of the money that’s come in so far, it’s over $25 million, and that’s just for the official part of this event. The investment and finance industry have put in the largest amount, over $6 million so far. They’re very interested, of course, in passing the Social Security changes that President Bush is recommending.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by investment and finance sectors.

JOAN CLAYBROOK: These are companies that handle investments for you, Merrill Lynch, that kind of a company, and banking industry, finances. Finance companies. So, this is an industry that really wants the Social Security changes to occur. They hope to be the beneficiaries of this privatization of Social Security the private investment opportunity for Social Security recipients. And so, the debate that’s going on over this is huge. There are Republicans in the Congress who are opposing it. Bush is going to have a hefty uphill battle. The administration hasn’t given the details yet of its proposals. But the companies that handle private investments for the public today are the ones that are most interested in the passage of it, and they are really buying access here. That’s what this is, by the way. This is buying access, getting tickets to all of the exclusive events, and being close to senators, representatives, cabinet officials, agency heads, White House staff. Because this is the opportunity to chit-chat with them and just raise issues and to make sure that you get your message across.

AMY GOODMAN: How does the privatization of Social Security, what president bush is pushing, benefit the finance sectors?

JOAN CLAYBROOK: Well, because the finance sectors would be handling the private investment, and they would get a commission for every investment made. So, it’s a huge boondoggle for the private investment industry.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you name some of the names of the lobbyists that are contributing money?

JOAN CLAYBROOK: Well, the number of individual lobbyists that have contributed is actually small, compared to the total. There’s a total of $400,000 so far that we have seen. It may be that it all hasn’t been released yet, but Halley Barber, who his firm called Barber Griffin and Rodgers, and then a major law firm, Piper and Ruddnick, Washington International Group, Williams and Jensen. These are just a few of the major lobbying operations in Washington. Not some of the largest. So, our view is that there’s more to come. It just hasn’t all been released yet.

AMY GOODMAN: You write that $25 million has been collected so far.

JOAN CLAYBROOK: That’s correct. Right. $25 million. The Bush administration wants to raise $40 million. They’ll have sales of tickets, and they’ll have all sorts of goodies that you can buy, cups and other things, t-shirts. But they want to raise the bulk of the money initially from corporations. It’s not just the money that comes in for the funding of the major — the parade and the — all of the events, the public events. But it’s all of the private events that is really why these companies are participating. They have exclusive luncheons. They have luncheons in honor of Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House, or of Bill Frist, the Majority Leader in the Senate. And so, that attracts other senators and members to come. So, they say, well, we’d like to have a luncheon honoring you, and they’re not large. They’re several hundred people, but they’re not the size of the balls and so on. So, they get this chance to have exclusive relationships with these Senators and members of Congress.

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