WASHINGTON -- Two companies, AT&T and Microsoft, helping tounderwrite President Obama's Jan. 21 inaugural festivities havemultimillion dollar contracts with the federal government and a thirdstands to benefit financially from the new federal health care law beingimplemented during his second term.
A long-standing U.S. law barsfederal contractors from spending to influence presidential andcongressional elections, but few limits are imposed on post-electionfundraising to pay for swearing-in festivities.
After refusingcorporate money for his first inauguration, Obama reversed course lastmonth and has taken donations from seven corporations, according to alist the inaugural committee recently posted to its website. They are atiny fraction of the 417 inaugural "benefactors" announced to date, butinclude some big corporate figures.
Telecom giant AT&T, whichspent more than $14 million lobbying Congress and federal agenciesduring the first nine months of 2012, has been awarded more than $101million in federal contracts in the current fiscal year, federalcontracting data show. Microsoft, which spent nearly $5.7 million onlobbying, has been awarded nearly $4.6 million in technology contractswith Homeland Security, the White House and several other agencies sofar during this fiscal year.
Public Citizen, a liberal-leaningwatchdog group, has sharply criticized Obama's decision to takecorporate money. "Such donations are more troubling when they come fromcompanies that have significant ongoing business with the federalgovernment," said Robert Weissman, the group's president. "They willexpect a very good hearing regarding any concerns, complaints oraspirations they might have."
In a statement, inauguralspokeswoman Addie Whisenat said the donations "fully comply with thelaws governing contributions to an inaugural committee" and noted thatObama has imposed other restrictions not required by law, such asrefusing donations from lobbyists and political action committees.
Inaddition, companies that took federal bailout money under the TroubledAsset Relief Program can't donate unless they have repaid federal funds.
Microsoftofficials declined to comment. Officials with AT&T did not returntelephone calls Monday. Its political action committee donated toRepublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign.
Anothercorporate donor, Centene Corporation, manages health insurance programsfor more than a dozen states. Those programs include Medicaid, thefederal-state health insurance system for the poor, and the Children'sHealth Insurance Program. The Congressional Budget Office estimatesinsurance coverage will be expanded to 7 million more Americans in bothprograms next year as the new federal health care law takes effect.
CentenePresident and CEO Michael Neidorff donated more than $66,000 in the2012 election to Obama and the Democratic National Committee and $25,000to the Republican National Committee. Company officials did not respondto telephone calls and e-mails Monday.
Another company with health care interests, Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug firm, Roche, also donated.
"Genentechworks proactively to ensure that the company plays a positive role inthe communities in which we live and operate," the company said in astatement. "Genentech is proud to provide support for the presidentialinauguration."
Inaugural officials have not said how much the corporations andindividuals have donated, but must publicly release that information 90days after the event in a report to the Federal Election Commission.
Inthe meantime, the committee has voluntarily released an initial list ofdonors, which includes anyone who has contributed at least $200. Itincludes wealthy Democratic contributors, such as Alida RockefellerMessinger, a Standard Oil heir who last year donated $1 million to apro-Obama super PAC.
The other corporate donors listed by thecommittee: Financial Innovations, a political mass marketing firm run byMark Weiner, an Obama fundraiser; Stream Line Circle; and WhittierTrust Co., a California investment management firm. Steve Anderson, aWhittier executive, said the firm did not donate but handled acontribution for a client, whom he declined to name.
Inaugural committee officials say they will release the names of additional donors on a regular basis.
Obamais seeking big donations for the inaugural event, which includes thetraditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and inaugural balls.Companies and institutions that give $1 million will be rewarded withtickets to VIP receptions, reserved bleacher seats from which to watchthe parade and four inaugural ball tickets. Perks for corporate donorsat the $100,000 level include two tickets to the ball.