The Heat Is Online

Big Oil Leads List of Bush Inauguration Donors

Energy Companies Help Lift Inaugural Fund to $8 Million

The New York Times, Dec. 24, 2004

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - Drawing support from the energy industry and other longtime backers of President Bush, the Presidential Inaugural Committee has raised almost $8 million since it began gathering money this month, according to a list it released Thursday.

ExxonMobil, the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, ChevronTexaco and the Southern Company were among more than 20 donors to give the maximum $250,000, which entitles executives to attend the ceremonies, black-tie balls and events with the president. Many others gave smaller amounts in return for fewer perks, like the $100,000 contributed by the military contractors Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee is seeking to raise as much as $40 million to kick off Mr. Bush's second term, with multiple events leading up to the Jan. 20 swearing-in, and has spent much of December soliciting donors across the country, despite the holidays and the exhaustion brought by an election that raised record amounts.

"There is some donor fatigue," said Brad Freeman, a longtime Bush supporter and fund-raiser who is a co-chairman of the committee. "But they have had a nice rest."

So far, the roster of donors is thick with people and companies loyal to Mr. Bush and the Republican Party, and fund-raisers expect it to grow substantially.

For corporations, the inauguration represents a rare opportunity to write large checks. Though companies are forbidden to contribute directly to candidates or political parties during an election, campaign finance laws do not restrict them from donating to events like political conventions or inaugurations. Roughly half the 52 contributors identified so far are companies, including well-known names like International Paper, Union Pacific and Qualcomm.

Several donors are individuals who also played a major role in this year's election. For example, T. Boone Pickens, a Texas oilman who contributed $250,000 for the inauguration, had given a total of about $5.5 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund and Swift Vets and P.O.W.'s for Truth, two groups that supported Mr. Bush.

Ameriquest Capital Corporation also gave $250,000 to the inauguration. Dawn Arnall, who is co-chairwoman of the company along with her husband, Roland Arnall, gave $5 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund this year. The two were also $200,000 "ranger" fund-raisers for Mr. Bush's campaign.

Another $250,000 donor for the inauguration is Richard Kinder, a former president of the Enron Corporation, who is now chief executive of the Kinder Morgan energy transportation companies. His wife, Nancy Kinder, was a ranger fund-raiser for Mr. Bush and both are members of the inauguration's finance committee.

Though there is no legal limit to the amount donors can give to an inauguration, the committee has voluntarily capped donations at $250,000 per contributor. That apparently does not stop related organizations from each giving the maximum.

For example, Ameriquest, which is a holding company for several financial services firms, gave $250,000, as did Argent Mortgage Company, Long Beach Acceptance Corporation and Town and County Credit, which are each part of Ameriquest. Collectively, the affiliated companies gave $1 million.

Some advocates of tighter campaign finance restrictions say the lack of limits on inaugural fund-raising is a shortcoming in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which was passed in 2002 to ban unlimited soft-money contributions to candidates and political parties.

"It's a problem because the opportunity for wealthy donors to funnel huge sums of money to the president and receive recognition from the president could translate into access and influence," said Donald J. Simon, a lawyer who has worked to tighten campaign finance laws.