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One Spurned Purple Ticket Holder Claims Victory

Obama campaign and inaugural donors Patricia Jones Blessman and her husband, Stephen Blessman, with their baby, Ben Isaac Blessman, and President Obama at a campaign event in September 2008. (Courtesy of Patricia Jones Blessman )

Those spurned purple, blue and silver ticket holders aren't very pleased with this week's not-so-detailed report on Inauguration Day chaos, which pins blame more on the oversize crowd than on police.

But at least one of the ticket holders, a hefty contributor to President Obama's inaugural committee who was left out in the cold on Jan. 20, feels she's on the verge of winning compensation -- but not from the inaugural committee, which has closed up shop and refuses to respond to complaints.

Patricia Jones Blessman, who gave $10,000 to the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), has asked for a refund and received tentative word from her credit card company that she'll get every dime of it back.

Blessman tells the Sleuth she followed the refund protocol outlined by American Express, the card she used to make her donation, and sent a copy of her letter to the inaugural committee. American Express has given her an "interim" refund in full, pending a review that will involve the credit card company presenting to PIC officials all of Blessman's documentation on the services she feels she was denied.

Her complaint centers on not getting to see Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, a privilege for which she - unlike most inauguration goers - had paid big bucks. Blessman, a clinical psychologist, and her husband, Stephen Blessman, an investor, are Chicagoans and longtime supporters of Obama.

Blessman says she felt treated "like nothing more than an ATM" by the inaugural committee.

In exchange for her donation, Blessman had received a donor package of perks that included two tickets to Obama's swearing-in ceremony. But she never made it to her viewing spot on account of the security mayhem that prevented tens of thousands of ticketed inauguration goers from getting to their seats and left many of them trapped for hours in what came to be known as the Purple Tunnel of Doom.

Blessman and her husband both donated to Obama's presidential campaign in addition to giving $10,000 to help fund his inaugural celebration. Jones was a volunteer bundler for the campaign and blogged often on Obama's campaign Website.

"Bereft, bittersweet disappointment does not even begin to describe the emotions we are left with on what should have been a joyous mountaintop experience. The irony is that we paid for this madness," Blessman wrote in an email dated Jan. 22 to Julianna Smoot, a co-chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee and the national finance chair of Obama's presidential campaign.

But after it appeared she would be getting a refund this month, Blessman wrote in an email to the Sleuth, "The PIC did what was honorable and acted in a way consistent with the values we personally know the Obamas hold. "

The PIC, however, had nothing to do with American Express's decision to tentatively refund Blessman's account pending a review of the matter. And it's unclear when or if American Express will hear back from anyone at the inaugural committee, which has officially closed its doors and clearly isn't responding to donors like Blessman.

Furthermore, the PIC had no responsibility or authority for planning and security matters at the inaugural swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. But PIC spokesman Josh Earnest, who is now working in the White House press office, said last month, "We're sympathetic to the disappointment of those who had tickets to the swearing-in but were not admitted - many of whom had dedicated their time, energy and money to our successful campaign. It's also why we're following the congressional inquiry into the logistical problems that plagued the Capitol Hill ceremony."

A fair interpretation of that comment could be taken to mean: We feel bad for our donors, but it's not our problem!

By Mary Ann Akers  |  March 25, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
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The problem is everyone wants to be made whole. And if they can find a sucker, and a blood sucker lawyer would want to go for punitive damages too.

Why can't they accept the fact sometime (make that most of the time) life isn't fair and there isn't always someone to blame.

If you want all aspects covered then you ought to buy insurance. Just make sure you don't buy it from someone like AIG. In that case you are back to square one.

Posted by: kblgca | March 25, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

I think she's definitely entitled to a refund. Good for her.

Posted by: layla2 | March 25, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I also had a friend who worked tirelessly on Obama's campaign who had a purple ticket and got shut out. She also got shut out of the ball she had a ticket to attend. She was devastated at first, but then decided that this was her inauguration experience, along with many others, and she refused to let it taint her joy at helping to elect President Obama for the good of our country. I'm sympathetic to this donor's disappointment, but also find her demand for a refund to be a bit childish. Stuff happens. Life doesn't go smoothly sometimes. If you are in a position to donate $10,000, just be grateful for your good fortune and let the rest go. Your contributions helped make history.

Posted by: bethechange1 | March 25, 2009 11:26 PM | Report abuse

A friend of mine took the day off work to take his 9 yr old daughter to the Inauguration. They had purple tickets too. They got no where near getting in and had to go home, the little girl was sorely disappointed. I think my friend should get $10,000--not because of his financial contribution, but because his lost time from work (which isn't a big chunk of that) and what his daughter was deprived by not being able to see the president Inaugurated live. Her disappointment is worth at least that.

Posted by: erathwomen | March 26, 2009 6:41 AM | Report abuse

I appreciate this woman's disappointment. I know many ticket holders who didn't make it that day. Still, she made a donation. A gift from the recipient for her donation were the tickets. The events that took place were out of their control.

If I made a donation to PBS and they were unable to send whatever promised merchandise gift was attached to my donation level, do I deserve a refund? I wasn't buying a mug or a dvd or a tote bag, I was making a donation to an organization.

This woman thinks she was paying for tickets instead of making a donation. And like other commenters here have said: other ticket holders didn't get to view the Inauguration either, are they entitled to some sort of compensation for it as well?

Posted by: urbanbohemian | March 26, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

In hindsite, two months later, and as a Silver Ticket holder who "got in" eventually and "out" eventually, I have decided that I am actually lucky.

I am lucky to have gotten away with my life.

The report on the events released earlier this week is a Number One Whitewash. Whoever was in "charge" (I use the word very loosely) of "security" and "crowd control" should have been and should still be fired outright.

President Obama should be eternally grateful that there were not, in the end, a mass pileup of people killed that day. And any moves he has or hasn't taken to apologize or otherwise make a million people endangered or enraged will never be enough.

Posted by: ebliversidge | March 26, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I second urbanbohemian.

Posted by: rivegauche | March 26, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

You get what you pay for...In this instance, nothing!

Posted by: us1156 | March 26, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

As a person who was a Blue Ticket holder, and was similarly shut out, I can sympathize with Ms. Blessman. I didn't make a donation to the PIC, but I do think she was entitled to a refund if it's what she really wanted.

I'm really over what happened to all of us ticket-holders that day. Of course, it put a damper on our experience, but our memories just ended up different, is all. Stuff happens. All I was ever looking for was an investigation and an apology. The investigation results did not satisfy me. I did get that nice "Sorry your Inauguration sucked and that you almost got trampled" packet from the PIC though. :-)

I blogged about my experience here, with photos:

Posted by: CincyJen | March 26, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I also was a purple ticket holder. There were about 23.000 of us who did not get in. My daughter and I got within 30 feet of the gate when it closed. We had waited in line for 7 hours after taking the Metro in from College Park, MD. Our feet were freezing, but our spirits were high after spending time with some of the nicest people in the world in line. Everyone was just happy to have Barack being sworn in. Whoever planned the inaguration screwed up really badly. We kept getting conflicting information about where to go. No one seemed to know where they were to go. I flew in from Chicago for the Inauguration, and had to stay a week to avoid paying $1800 for the flight if I were just going in for the Inauguration and back out again. Fortunately, my daughter is living in the area as a doctoral student at UMD. I worked for Barack's campaign during the primary and the election cycle as a volunteer. My husband and I made donations up to the allowed maximum in both cycles. We did that because we believe in Barack, and believe that he can truly change America for the better. I regret not being out there to see him take the oath, but am so proud to have worked for him, and I will never forget the experience of the joy and pride exhibited by all those in DC that day. I don't expect a refund for our donations or our expenses. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be that close to history in the making.
I only wish that they Republicans would show some patriotism and help Barack and Congress solve the economic problems facing this nation instead of acting like idiots throwing up roadblocks to a successful effort. They helped create the problem. They need to work for what is best for our country not their own pockets.

Posted by: ggerson | March 26, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

What was the $10,000 for, anyway? Just a "chance" at getting a view or a seat? Or was there some actual offer involved? Any disclaimers in the agreement? (Read your cruise ship packet sometime: no guarantees on anything, which are expressly spelled out).

Posted by: marshafielding | March 26, 2009 8:49 PM | Report abuse

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