ABC News spotted senior Citigroup executive Louis Susman entering an elite party Sunday night for top fundraisers to Obama's inauguration fund and Obama officials, including incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Citigroup lost $8 billion last quarter, and has taken $45 billion in taxpayer bailout funds. Susman raised $300,000 for Obama's inaugural committee.
"We're talking about an industry that's right in the middle of a bailout program," said Craig Holman of the Washington, D.C. watchdog group Public Citizen. "They want a seat at the table with the Obama administration."
The party, at the swanky Park at Fourteenth restaurant and club in downtown Washington, D.C., wasn't mentioned on the inauguration committee's public Web site. Reporters and cameras were not allowed inside.
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Susman could not be reached for comment Monday; he declined an earlier request to appear on camera. A Citigroup spokesperson said the bank was not participating in any inauguration-related events, and any executives present were there in a personal capacity.
Because he raised so much money for the inauguration, Obama's committee would have given Susman some other nice perks: access to a VIP seating area for its Sunday "We Are One" superstar concert at the Lincoln Memorial, a comfortable table inside a high-end restaurant from which to watch the inaugural parade Tuesday, and more.
A spokesman for Obama's Presidential Inaugural Committee said Monday he saw no conflict in honoring Susman with special access and private events, because the group made no secret of Susman's generosity. "We believe this information should be out there," said Brent Colburn, "so the air is clear on who is supporting the efforts of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. . . so we can be clean and open."
Critics Say This is a Business Relationship, Not Just a Party
Robert Wolf, a top executive for Swiss banking giant UBS , also came to the Sunday party at Park at Fourteenth. Federal prosecutors say that for years UBS helped super-wealthy Americans cheat the IRS by hiding billions of dollars outside the government's reach. Wolf and his division, UBS Americas, was not alleged to have been a part of any wrongdoing.
UBS has said its internal review found evidence of "a limited number of cases" of tax fraud. It says it has ended the practices which have gotten it into trouble. Attempts to reach Wolf for comment were unsuccessful.
"There's no doubt, some of the people who are helping pay for some of the Inaugural activities really are just excited about the new administration and perhaps just want to party," said Public Citizen's Holman. But when executives like Susman raise $300,000 to give Obama's inaugural fund, "This is a business relationship," Holman said. "This isn't just having a good time and partying."