Corporate Cash Helps Fund Obama Inauguration Festivities

PHOTO: A large crowd cheers at the Washington Monument as Barack Obama prepares to take the oath of office during the Presidential inauguration in Washington on Jan. 20, 2009.

In reversing President Obama's position on accepting corporate sponsors for this weekend's official inaugural festivities, the official inaugural committee has permitted a number of companies with interests pending before the federal government to donate.

They include such familiar blue chip names as AT&T, Microsoft and Coca Cola, but also such lesser-known companies as United Therapeutics, a biotech firm based in Silver Spring, Maryland.

United Therapeutics has in recent years been lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to grant approval of a drug the company developed to treat a lung disorder, so far without great success. In October, when an FDA ruling questioned whether the oral version of the drug did anything to slow the progress of pulmonary arterial hypertension, the company's CEO told reporters that company executives would "continue using our best efforts to gain approval [of the version of the drug] … and we will focus on doing so within the next four years."

How political contributions figure into the company's strategy is unclear. Andrew Fisher, the company's Chief Strategic Officer and Deputy General Counsel told ABC News in an email, "We're not providing any comment on this topic."

But United Therapeutics has been more aggressive than most in its support of Obama, and those contributions came at a time when the president softened his opposition to corporate money in politics. This summer, after Obama backtracked on a ban against corporate money at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, United Therapeutics stepped up.

The biotech company was the sixth largest corporate donor to the administrative arm of the convention host committee, called New American City, Inc., only finishing behind such financial giants as Bank of America, AT&T and Duke Energy. The company gave $600,000, according to contribution records.

The company's CEO has also been a major donor to the Democratic Party, and to Obama's campaign, giving more than $125,000 in the past four years.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which advocates for transparency in the way politics is financed, said the decision to allow corporate money is just one of several changes in the way Obama has approached financing inaugural events. Gone also are self-imposed caps on the amounts that individuals can donate. And, Krumholz said, the inaugural committee has back-tracked on the level of transparency displayed in 2009, when Obama was first sworn into office.

"This inauguration and, particularly the funding of it, stands in stark contrast to the previous inauguration," she said.

The changes are consistent with a subtle shift in the way Obama has handled touchstone issues surrounding money and politics. Obama was once a critic, for instance, of the so-called Super PACs that were established to raise unlimited funds to support campaigns. But in his 2012 reelection bid, Obama advisors set up an organization, Priorities USA, for just that purpose.

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