For Obama, Donations Don't Gush Like They Used To Less than two weeks before the inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural committee and his transition project face potential budget shortfalls. They jointly need some $50 million, and fundraising appears to have been lagging.
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For Obama, Donations Don't Gush Like They Used To

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For Obama, Donations Don't Gush Like They Used To

For Obama, Donations Don't Gush Like They Used To

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

The federal budget isn't the only one in Washington with a potential shortfall. Mr. Obama's inaugural committee and his transition project need to raise millions of dollars. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: The inaugural committee pays for the official inaugural festivities. The balls, the jumbo video screens on the National Mall, and almost everything else except the swearing-in ceremony itself. The transition project finances the grunt work of the new administration, everything from recommending appointees to assessing the condition of agencies.

But after a campaign in which candidate Obama sometimes raised more than $50 million in a single month, the economy's gone bad, and money doesn't gush the way it used to. So far, the inaugural committee has raised about $27 million, that's 60 percent of its projected budget.

Ms. LINDA DOUGLASS (Inaugural Committee Spokeswoman): We're on target for making our budget.

OVERBY: Linda Douglass is the committee spokeswoman.

Ms. DOUGLASS: Certainly people are looking to see what sort of contribution they can make. But we are on target.

OVERBY: Three hundred and fifty people looked and saw they could give $50,000 each. That's the maximum the committee will accept. It's about seven times what a donor could legally give to candidate Obama's campaign. Among the donors are many celebrities who gave to the campaign, Steven Spielberg, Samuel Jackson and others.

Money also comes in bundles, contributions collected by a single person. More than 100 bundlers from the campaign are at it again for the inaugural committee. Twenty bundlers have hit the committee's ceiling of $300,000 each. The transition project only takes contributions of $5,000 or less. Most of its 56,000 donors have given much less.

A transition spokesman says the average contribution is $70. Just 220 donors have maxed out. That seems to be because the transition got to use the Obama campaign's four million donor database soon after the election. The transition budget is also much smaller than the inauguration committee's, $12 million. The government pays almost half, and the rest comes from donors.

Now, the transition spokesman says they expect to raise, quote, "The amount of money we need." These efforts are not regulated the way campaigns are. Inaugural committees used to be rife with corporate money. Linda Douglass says the president-elect has put corporations off limits, and some others too.

Ms. DOUGLASS: No corporations, no lobbyists, no unions, no pacts.

OVERBY: And something else not required by law. Both the inaugural committee and the transition project post their donor information online.

Ms. DOUGLASS: When you shine light on fundraising in the way that this committee has done, it really does beat back the notion that people are somehow buying influence.

OVERBY: And even when this year's top donors max out at $50,000, that's still just one-fifth as much as the top-end for President Bush's second inauguration. Alex Cohen is with the advocacy group Public Citizen, where he writes for Becoming44.org, a blog about the Obama transition. He judges the Obama standards this way.

Mr. ALEX COHEN (Blogger, Becoming44.org): Far and above anything that the Bush administration ever, ever levied.

OVERBY: But he says shutting out some donors doesn't totally shut down special interest pleading. Not when some donors have been invited to events with incoming administration officials.

Mr. COHEN: The reality is that a person doesn't need to be a lobbyist or a corporation to have interest before the administration. And to say that no issues come up during these meetings - OK, well I don't know.

OVERBY: And neither does anyone else. It's the kind of thing that won't become known until the Obama administration starts making decisions that matter to its big donors. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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