Obama relying on bigger checks for smaller inauguration party

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama, who has tried to limit the influence of money in politics, is relying on federal contractors and businesses that profited from his campaign to pay as much as $1 million for his inauguration party later this month.

The fundraising strategy marks a shift from Obama's 2009 inauguration, when he banned corporate money and limited individual contributions to showcase his commitment to transparency and clean government.

This time around, organizers are soliciting bigger checks to pay for a party that will lack the historic aura of 2009, when Obama became the nation's first black president.

Donors include prominent government contractors such as AT&T and Microsoft and a business that sells inauguration merchandise. Wealthy individuals who funded attacks on his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, also appear to be contributors.

Inauguration organizers say the loosened restrictions will make it easier to cover the event's costs after the most expensive election in US history. Organizers are reluctant to rely on individual donors who may feel tapped out after contributing a record $715 million to Obama's re-election.

"We just came off of a very expensive election. We just want to make sure we are meeting the goals we need to in order to put on these civic events," said an official with the Presidential Inaugural Committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Government watchdogs say the fundraising effort highlights the gulf between Obama's rhetoric and his actions in trying to limit the influence of big donors in Washington.

"We have gotten used to being disappointed by him when it comes to money in politics," said Campaign Legal Center policy director Meredith McGehee.

Uneasy relationship with big money

Since emerging on the national stage in 2004, Obama has struggled to reconcile his desire to rein in political spending with the need to win elections and court allies.

He has called for a constitutional amendment to overturn a 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations and other groups to spend unlimited funds to influence elections.

Obama initially criticised the "Super PACs," or political action committees, that were set up to take advantage of the court's decision. But he reversed course after it became clear that Republican candidates were benefiting from the new groups and possibly putting Obama's Democrats at a fundraising disadvantage.

Organizers of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early September initially banned corporate contributions for that event, but eased that restriction when fundraising lagged.

When Obama took office in 2009, inauguration organizers banned corporate contributions and limited individual contributions to $50,000.

This time, organizers say they are reluctant to ask tapped-out campaign contributors to pay for a party that most of them won't attend.

The inaugural committee is asking businesses to contribute up to $1 million - more than the $250,000 limit that Republican President George W. Bush, Obama's predecessor, put in place for his second inauguration in 2005.

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