What Recession? The $170 Million Inauguration

The country is in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, which isn't stopping rich donors and the government from spending $170 million, or more, on the inauguration of Barack Obama .

The actual swearing-in ceremony will cost $1.24 million, according to Carole Florman, spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

It's the security, parties and countless Porta-a-Potty rentals that really run up the bill.

The federal government estimates that it will spend roughly $49 million on the inaugural weekend. Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland have requested another $75 million from the federal government to help pay for their share of police, fire and medical services.

And then there is the party bill.

"We have a budget of roughly $45 million, maybe a little bit more," said Linda Douglass, spokeswoman for the inaugural committee.

That's more than the $42.3 million in private funds spent by President Bush's committee in 2005 or the $33 million spent for Bill Clinton's first inaugural in 1993.

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Douglass said that this will be the "most open and accessible inauguration in history," with members of the general public able to participate on a greater scale than ever before.

"The money is going toward providing events which we hope are going to connect people, make them feel like we are all in this together and reinforce the notion that when we pull together, we're stronger," Douglass said. "And we need to pull together to face the challenges that are before us today."

Among the expenses: a Bruce Springsteen concert, the parade, large-screen TV rentals for all-free viewing on the national Mall, $700,000 to the Smithsonian Institution to stay open and, of course, the balls, including three that are being pitched as free or low cost for the public.

But there are plenty of rich donors willing to pick up the tab.

"They are not the $20 and $50 donors who helped propel Obama through Election Day," said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. "These are people giving mostly $50,000 apiece. They tend to be corporate executives, celebrities, the elite of the elite."

Best Seats in the House

The biggest group of donors were none other than the recently bailed-out Wall Street executives and employees.

"The finance sector is well represented, despite its recent troubles," Ritsch said. "Those who worked in finance still managed to pull together nearly $7 million for the inauguration."

The donors will get some of the best seats in the house for the inauguration, as well as admittance to some of the best balls and other events.

"I don't think that they're going to get a whole lot of face time with the new president himself," Ritsch said, "but they are certainly establishing themselves from day one as his biggest financial supporters. And if there's something they need or to tell him down the road, they will have an easier time doing that than everyone else."

Besides Wall Street firms, a large chunk of the money came from employees at companies such as Microsoft, Google and DreamWorks Animation, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer and his wife, Connie, each gave $50,000. So did Microsoft chairman and co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda.

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