Lobbyists Wonder If They'll Be Included in Obama Inaugural Fun
Seems like the entire country is anxiously awaiting details of Barack Obama's inaugural festivities, including Washington lobbyists who aren't quite sure how they'll fit into the picture.
"The No. 1 question on K Street and beyond is: what's the structure going to be this time around for underwriting the inaugural balls?" says Tom Jolly, a veteran Democratic lobbyist, who, like every other "L Word" in town, was as shunned as Hester Prynne by the Obama presidential campaign.
Jolly tells the Sleuth he has clients who are longtime Democratic donors who have already made their travel arrangements to come to Washington to celebrate on Jan. 20, but they have no clue how to go about getting tickets to the balls. "There's a lot of anxiety right now," Jolly told us, expressing hope that since "so far Team Obama seems to have everything else right" they'll pull through on inaugural organization.
But it's unclear whether Jolly and rest of his ilk will find themselves standing out in the cold on inauguration night wearing their scarlet letter Ls, peering in the windows as the non-lobbyists celebrate history.
After all, Obama prohibited lobbyists from participating in his presidential campaign -- including donating money. And on Tuesday, the president-elect's transition chief, John Podesta, announced tough restrictions on the role lobbyists can play in the transition. But he declined to say what role they may or may not play in the inauguration. ("We'll have more to announce at a later point," he said.)
Traditionally, inaugural celebrations have been feeding frenzies for lobbyists looking for an in with the new administration. Lobbyists typically help raise money to throw lavish balls and, therefore, scoop up plenty of tickets for their corporate clients.
Two days before George W. Bush's second inauguration in 2005, for example, lobbyists had contributed $400,000 of the $24.9 million collected by that point for inaugural events, according to the watchdog group Public Citizen. The group projected it to be the most expensive inauguration in history. And lobbyists helped raise enough dough to hold an unprecedented 14 balls for the second inaugural of one William Jefferson Clinton.
Podesta's brother, Tony Podesta, is among those lobbyists who professes not to know whether he'll be allowed to help raise money for Obama's inaugural celebration. But he doesn't hold out much hope.
"The Obama campaign has indicated they don't want help from registered lobbyists," he said. "So I doubt they're suddenly going to have a sharp U-turn at this point."
Easy for him to say, his brother is running the show. (Tony says if brother John "wants to take me as his date to the ball instead of his wife, I'd love to go.")
But no one expects lobbyist restrictions will put a damper on Obama-palooza. The party will go on. And, as always, there'll still be plenty of corporate schmoozing to be had, recession or no recession. Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the Financial Service Roundtable, which represents banks and other corporations, tells us his members are still planning to throw cocktail receptions all over town and fully expect to don their tuxedos and ball gowns.
"A celebration of the inauguration is a business opportunity," he said. "There's a lot of business done at these celebrations."
And how will companies that just got federal money in the financial bailout justify their inaugural party budgets? "They'll be more subdued, more business-like," Talbott says.
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