Corporate leaders from energy companies and other businesses with a potential stake in climate legislation are among the largest individual donors financing the inauguration festivities.
Included in the list of givers contributing the maximum $50,000 are Richard Sandor, CEO of the Chicago Climate Exchange, operator of a voluntary carbon trading system in the United States, and Peter Corsell, the CEO of GridPoint Energy, a business selling services to revamp the electrical grid.
Thomas Carnahan, the president and CEO of wind farm developer Wind Capital Group, gave $8,000 individually to the Presidential Inaugural Committee and brought in $100,000 through associates in a process known as bundling.
People from energy and natural resource groups and companies gave about $600,000 to the committee out of a total of more than $40 million in private funding across all sectors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Individuals contributing hefty funds receive a variety of benefits, including prime seats for the swearing in, invitations to VIP events and tickets to inaugural balls attended by the Obamas and key players in the next administration. It's a centuries-old tradition in Washington, D.C., that some say offers business leaders a unique opportunity to curry favor with politicians.
"There is no question that some big energy CEOs are hoping for as much business as usual as they can buy. Others are obviously hoping they can twist the change mantra to their advantage," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
Gifts given as individuals, not as corporations
The Obama team emphasizes that unlike former administrations, it is not accepting direct funds from corporations, political action committees, labor unions or lobbyists. A spokeswoman for GridPoint, Suzanne Lauer, reiterated the "no corporate donations" stance and said her boss was attending the events as an individual, not a company representative. Sandor and Carnahan declined to comment.
Additionally, many of the black-tie events and receptions associated with past inaugurations are gone, and the committee is publicly listing the names and affiliations of all donors contributing $200 or more. In the past, corporate donors could give as much as $500,000, which is 10 times the current cap on individuals.
"Paying $50,000 won't keep you out of the cold," said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, which released an analysis of the donors. "In some ways, you're not much more special than anyone else."
In the longer term, he said, it will be interesting to see whether any of the major givers receive ambassadorships or regulatory favors, as has happened in the past. And $50,000 does entitle donors to a special package, replete with four tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, the parade and an official ball, as well as invitations to exclusive events.
Schmooze with Al Gore at the Green Ball
In addition to Sandor, Corsell and Carnahan, donors with connections to energy companies or nonprofit groups included the following:
- Judith Batty, a lawyer for Exxon Mobil, $50,000.
- Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, an adviser to international energy companies, $50,000.
- Amy Fikes of Bonanza Oil Co., which has a stated goal of exploiting oil and gas reserves, $50,000.
- Chris Findlater, CEO of Cheyenne Exploration Inc., a recycler of used motor oil, $50,000.
- Diane Meyer-Simon, founder of Global Green USA, the American nonprofit arm of a group founded by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, $50,000.
- Ellen Pao, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who focuses on green technologies, $50,000.
- Laurance Rockefeller of the New York League of Conservation Voters, $38,000.
- Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google Inc., $25,000. Schmidt has been outspoken about the company's plans to reduce carbon emissions.
- Laura Ricketts, co-founder of Ecotravel LLC, a company dedicated to promoting environmentally friendly travel, $25,000.
- Anand Appulingam, managing director of the Carbon Group Ltd., a business specializing in carbon credits and offsets in Africa, $13,000.
- John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, largest U.S. operator of nuclear power plants, $5,000.
Those wanting to avoid direct contributions to the committee had the option of schmoozing with environmental bigwigs last night at two galas that had their own lists of corporate sponsors. A mere $1,000 bought a VIP pass to the Green Inaugural Ball, attended by former Vice President Al Gore, among others. It had the financial backing of organizations and companies ranging from Wal-Mart to the National Wildlife Federation to the American Gas Association.
Another event held by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation came under fire from some environmentalists yesterday for allowing partial sponsorship from oil giant Exxon Mobil in addition to support from groups like the World Wildlife Fund, a conservation group. Its most expensive tickets went for $100,000 each, with an opportunity to "meet and be photographed with celebrity guests."
Click here to see a list of donors contributing $200 or more to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
Click here to see a list of bundlers for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.