President Bush and wealthy donors are sparing no expense for his second inauguration. Besides the ceremony itself, there will a parade with 11,000 people, floats, vehicles and horses . There will be nine fancy dress balls and assorted receptions, rock concerts and candle-light dinners.
The inaugural committee plans to spend $40 million -- the most ever. President Clinton's 1993 festivities cost $33 million. So who’s picking up the tab for the Bush bash?
"There are a wide variety of companies that are giving; some people were former supporters,” said Larry Noble, executive director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “We’re seeing some Pioneers and Rangers -- the big fundraisers for Bush. Among the companies we are seeing are Texas companies and energy companies."
While direct corporate contributions to political campaigns are barred by law, inaugural committee contributions are one way companies can legally spend very large amounts in order to make friends in high places happy.
ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and Southern Company all kicked in $250,000 each. The companies hope the administration will push stalled energy subsidy legislation.
Financial services firms Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and HSBC gave a total of $375,000. They have a strong interest in president Bush's plan for private social security accounts.
Dawn Arnall, co-chairperson of Ameriquest Capital, gave $250,000 to the inaugural, and her company and its subsidiaries gave $750,000. Last year she gave $5 million to the pro-Bush Progress for America fund, which produced television commercials for the Bush campaign. Ameriquest specializes in sub-prime mortgages in minority neighborhoods and is seeking federal standards that would supersede tougher laws in several states.
"The wealthy here are buying access through giving large contributions,” said Noble. “And it looks a lot like what we have seen before -- with the political conventions and other things. It looks like a government for sale."
Some commentators, even conservatives who supported President Bush's re-election, question the appropriateness of a lavish inaugural in wartime.
"This president -- who was the choice of 80 percent of ‘morality’ voters, is undermining his moral standing by making a giant party for rich people while our soldiers continue to battle and die in Iraq," said talk radio host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
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Breaking with tradition, the administration says it will not reimburse the District of Columbia for nearly $12 million in security expenses. The city says it will have to divert money from other homeland security projects.
Over-the-top hotel packages
The Bush bash is expected to bring at least some extra business to the city’s hotels and restaurants. And at the finest hotels in the capitol, they're trying to capitalize on the event.
“I don't think the packages sell, “ said Ellen Gale, a spokeswoman at the Mandarin Oriental, which is putting together its own four-day, $200,000 extravaganza for high rollers. “But I think during inauguration, a lot of the hotels do put together over-the-top packages. And the consumers just want to see what are the hotels about -- sort of who can top one another.”
And what defines over the top? The Sofitel's Don't Mess With Texas price tag is $75,000 for a four-night stay and a chance to eat Beef Carpaccio on official White House china -- china that's yours to keep.
Over at the Ritz Carlton, $150,000 will get you private jet service to your suite, Louis Vuitton luggage and to sweeten the pot, enough Texas-themed tasties to make you bust your ball gown.
The Mandarin package includes a fourteen-room suite, a private jet, a butler, private masseuse, clothes, jewels, and some of the best views for watching the fireworks.
“There's his and her inaugural ball outfits,” said Hale. “There's an Oscar de la Renta gown.”
Everything and the shoes. But truth be told, the package didn't sell. The Mandarin sold the $8,000 dollar a night suite for the inaugural, but not the additional amenities.
More likely, fans of the festivities will be spending last term's tax refunds on so-called “elephant” cocktails, victory cigars and rattlesnake and bison nachos -- those last items are being served at the Ritz.
One the day after the festivities, The Grooming Lounge, the city's premiere pampering place for men (sorry, ladies) has a “morning after” package -- which handily enough comes in a bucket, just in case you need that, too.
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