Trump in­au­gu­ral drew slew of top-dol­lar cheques

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - WORLD NEWS - JULIE BYKOWICZ and NANCY BENAC

WASH­ING­TON — It was huge. Big money from bil­lion­aires, cor­po­ra­tions and a ros­ter of NFL own­ers poured into Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee in record­shat­ter­ing amounts — to pull off an event that was con­sid­er­ably lower-key than pre­vi­ous in­au­gu­ral cel­e­bra­tions.

That leaves a bit of a mys­tery: What the $107 mil­lion was spent for and how much was left over — the ex­cess, if any, to go to char­ity. It also raises a new round of ques­tions about the in­flu­ence of money in pol­i­tics, this time for a pres­i­dent who promised to “drain the swamp” of Wash­ing­ton.

Con­tri­bu­tion records from Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee, re­leased Wed­nes­day by the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, show the pres­i­dent who railed as a can­di­date against the cor­rupt­ing in­flu­ence of big-money donors was only too will­ing to ac­cept top-dol­lar chec­ques for his swear­ing-in fes­tiv­i­ties.

Trump’s to­tal take was about dou­ble the pre­vi­ous record set by for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who col­lected $53 mil­lion in con­tri­bu­tions in 2009, and had money left over to spend on the an­nual Easter egg roll and other White House events.

Trump’s top in­au­gu­ral donor was Las Ve­gas gam­bling bil­lion­aire Shel­don Adel­son, who gave $5 mil­lion. He and his wife came away with prime seats for Trump’s swear­ing-in cer­e­mony on Jan. 20 and gained ac­cess to a pri­vate lunch with the new pres­i­dent and law­mak­ers at the Capi­tol. Phil Ruf­fin, an­other casino mogul and close friend of Trump, was among dozens of donors who gave $1 mil­lion each.

At least eight NFL team own­ers kicked in big money for the inauguration. Seven of them, in­clud­ing Pa­tri­ots owner Bob Kraft, whose team won the Su­per Bowl and vis­ited the White House on Wed­nes­day, gave $1 mil­lion apiece. Kraft’s do­na­tion came via his lim­ited li­a­bil­ity com­pany.

Trump plans to name the New York Jets’ Woody John­son, one of those mil­lion-dol­lar donors, to be the coun­try’s am­bas­sador to the United King­dom.

Asked whether the pres­i­dent feels con­flicted about his com­mit­tee ac­cept­ing so much cor­po­rate and wealthy donor money, spokesman Sean Spicer said Wed­nes­day that fi­nanc­ing the in­au­gu­ral is “a time-hon­oured tra­di­tion” and there are “a lot of peo­ple who re­ally take pride in help­ing us show the world a peace­ful trans­for­ma­tion of power.”

Bren­dan Fis­cher of the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter, a non-profit pro­trans­parency group, coun­tered: “If you take Trump at his word that when po­lit­i­cal fig­ures ac­cept large amounts of money from cor­po­rate in­ter­ests or spe­cial in­ter­ests that they’re in­debted to those big donors, there’s cer­tainly rea­son to ques­tion what donors to Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee might ex­pect in re­turn.”

As is of­ten the case with cam­paigns and in­au­gu­ra­tions, some of the do­na­tions came from peo­ple do­ing busi­ness with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Bil­lion­aire Texan Kelcy War­ren, whose com­pany is build­ing the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line, gave the in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee $250,000. Christo­pher Cline, a bil­lion­aire coal mag­nate who owns Fore­sight En­ergy Part­ners, gave $1 mil­lion. Trump has vowed to bring back coal jobs, and his ad­min­is­tra­tion quickly ap­proved the Dakota pipe­line.

Busi­nesses that do­nated at the $1 mil­lion level in­cluded Bank of Amer­ica, Boe­ing, Dow Chem­i­cal, Pfizer and Qual­comm. Com­pa­nies also gave huge in-kind con­tri­bu­tions of goods and ser­vices, in­clud­ing $2.1 mil­lion from AT&T for mo­bile equip­ment and soft­ware, nearly $500,000 in “ve­hi­cle ex­penses” from Gen­eral Mo­tors and $500,000 in equip­ment from Mi­crosoft.

Casino mogul Steve Wynn do­nated en­ter­tain­ers and pro­duc­tion work val­ued at $729,000 for the Chair­man’s Ball, where the band Alabama and Wynn’s ShowS­top­pers per­formed, ac­cord­ing to Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver.

Rus­sian-Amer­ica busi­ness­man Alexan­der Shus­torovich also was among the $1 mil­lion donors to Trump’s inauguration com­mit­tee. The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee re­fused a con­tri­bu­tion from the U.S. cit­i­zen in 2000, cit­ing news re­ports at the time that cau­tioned about his ties to Rus­sian busi­ness. In more re­cent years, he’s given money to the party, to 2012 can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney, and to Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, FEC records show.

The inauguration of­fered donors who had held back dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign a chance to show be­lated sup­port for the in­com­ing pres­i­dent.

Bil­lion­aire in­vestor Paul Singer gave $1 mil­lion af­ter long ex­press­ing skep­ti­cism about Trump. Like Singer, Chicago hedge fund man­ager Ken Grif­fin, con­spic­u­ously avoided giv­ing money to Trump’s cam­paign dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tion. Grif­fin gave the Trump in­au­gu­ral $100,000.

While the gov­ern­ment sets strict con­tri­bu­tion lim­its on po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, the only fed­eral re­stric­tions on do­na­tions to in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tees are a ban on for­eign na­tion­als, ac­cord­ing to Fis­cher, of the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter. Past pres­i­dents-elect have tended to set vol­un­tary lim­its on their in­au­gu­ral fundrais­ing, but Trump’s only re­stric­tion was to ban money from lob­by­ists, he said.

Obama in 2009 set a $50,000 cap on in­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions and banned money from cor­po­ra­tions, po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees and lob­by­ists. He lifted those caps in 2013, when he raised about $43 mil­lion for a lower-key event.

In­au­gu­ral com­mit­tees have broad lee­way in how they spend their money and what they do with the left­overs, although some lim­i­ta­tions ap­ply, ac­cord­ing to Fis­cher. As a 501(c)(4) or­ga­ni­za­tion, for ex­am­ple, the com­mit­tee could use some of the money to give bonuses to staff, but IRS rules say the com­mit­tee couldn’t op­er­ate pri­mar­ily to ben­e­fit a small group of in­di­vid­u­als. Fed­eral cam­paigns wouldn’t be able re­ceive the money be­cause it was raised out­side con­tri­bu­tion lim­its, he said.

Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee has promised to “iden­tify and eval­u­ate char­i­ties that will re­ceive con­tri­bu­tions left from the ex­cess monies raised.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump gives his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress af­ter be­ing sworn in as the 45th pres­i­dent of the United States dur­ing the 58th Pres­i­den­tial Inauguration at the U.S. Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton D.C. on Jan. 20. Big money from bil­lion­aires, cor­po­ra­tions and a ros­ter of NFL own­ers poured into Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee in record­shat­ter­ing amounts, to pull off an event that turned out con­sid­er­ably lower-key than pre­vi­ous in­au­gu­ral cel­e­bra­tions.

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