WASHINGTON, D.C. - Taking a page from his predecessors, President-elect Donald Trump is putting a “for sale” sign on the festivities surrounding his Jan. 20 swearing-in. But, as might be expected from a real estate mogul, Trump and his inauguration committee are upping the price and going for top dollar.
Trump’s inaugural committee expects to raise as much as $75 million in private donations to fund lavish balls, private parties, concerts and other events. That would shatter a record set in 2009 by President Barack Obama, who took in $53 million in donations from businesses, special interests and private citizens.
Donation packages, laid out in a document by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, range up to $1 million and offer donors rare access to Cabinet officials, House and Senate leadership and even the president and vice-president themselves.
“This is just like an unbelievable selling of access to the president,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a government watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., who has pushed to lessen the role of money in politics.
The cheapest package — $25,000 — includes two tickets to the inaugural ball and a private concert and fireworks display on the National Mall. For $500,000, donors will enjoy an “intimate dinner” with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and his wife Karen, along with tickets to a slew of other private receptions, lunches and events that offer the chance of facetime with members of the new administration.
The biggest donors — those writing checks of $1 million or more — would be rewarded with four tickets to an “exclusive event with select Cabinet appointees and House and Senate leadership” along with time with the new vice-president and an array of tickets to other events featuring Trump himself.
“This is just a free-for-all for the very wealthy,” Holman said, adding that the larger-than-life party allows “those that have a lot of money and who have business pending before the new administration to throw money at the feet of the next president.”
While Trump’s inaugural is expected to rely on substantially more private money than did his predecessors, he is far from the first president-elect to charge a high price for inaugural festivities. In 2013, after capping individual donations at $50,000 for his first swearing-in, President Obama’s inaugural committee sold tickets as costly at $250,000 for individuals and $1 million for institutions looking to contribute.
Unlike Trump’s festivities, however, invitations to Obama’s inaugural events did not reference access to high-ranking administration officials.
In a statement, Presidential Inaugural Committee communications director Boris Epshteyn said this month’s events are an opportunity for “every American to participate in the democratic process of our country,” adding that “all funds raised above amounts needed” will be donated to charity.
Trump’s costly party seems to conflict with the image he portrayed as a populist candidate that would “drain the swamp” in Washington.
“My only special interest is you, the American people,” he said at a Florida campaign rally in October.
At a “thank you” rally last month in Michigan, he told an audience that “government must stop listening to the special interest, and start delivering for the national interest and for the people.”
Donors to Trump’s inaugural committee aren’t expected to be released until April. The Presidential Inaugural Committee has said it will not accept donations from registered lobbyists.
Unlike the balls, parties and other entertainment associated with the inauguration, the swearing-in ceremony itself is paid for with public funds.