Trump inauguration’s ‘Cabinet dinner’ offers access for cash – Politico
Deep-pocketed donors face a decision on Wednesday night: whether to dine with the Vice President-elect at the National Portrait Gallery, or enjoy an “intimate policy discussion” with incoming Cabinet appointees at an exclusive dinner at the Library of Congress.
The closed-door events, just two of many being held during inauguration week, were double-scheduled by planners. “It’s all messed up, they have the cabinet dinner and the V.P. dinner on the same night at the same time,” said a top donor to President-elect Donald Trump who’s torn over which to attend.
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The cost of admission for the Cabinet dinner is included in a package for either $100,000 or $250,000 to the presidential inaugural committee, while dinner with Vice President-elect Mike Pence is open to donors and corporate underwriters at the $500,000 and $1 million-level as part of multi-day itineraries, with the level of access determined by the amount of cash given, according to inauguration brochures obtained by POLITICO.
The invite states that only “select” Cabinet officials will attend, prompting concerns that only a few lower-profile nominees would be on hand. If that happens, “people will be pissed,” the Trump donor said.
Other bonuses for donors this week include a Thursday night black-tie candlelight dinner at Union Station, where Trump and Pence are expected to appear with their wives; a luncheon with select Cabinet picks and House and Senate leadership; a luncheon featuring “the ladies of the first families”; and tickets to the VIP ballroom at the Inaugural Ball, according to the inauguration brochures.
The Obama inauguration events included some Cabinet nominees, who attended dinners honoring Sen. John McCain and Vice President Joe Biden, said Steve Kerrigan, chief-of-staff for the Obama inauguration in 2009 and CEO of the inaugural committee in 2013, but didn’t promise donors direct access in the same way. The 2009 Obama inauguration did not accept contributions from lobbyists or corporations and limited personal contributions to $50,000, Kerrigan said — though those standards became far more relaxed for Obama’s second inauguration.
One Obama bundler said that he’d attended inaugural events expecting to meet future Cabinet members, though the dinners weren’t explicitly promoted as meet-and-greets. “The [Obamas] didn’t advertise ‘Come meet the new Cabinet,” said the bundler. “They weren’t in the Cabinet yet, just like Trump’s [appointees]. They are not confirmed so who knows if they will even get through [the Senate confirmation process].”
Trump’s presidential inauguration committee spokesman Boris Epshteyn declined to answer questions about which of Trump’s Cabinet picks would attend. He also declined to reveal how many donors had contributed at each level for the inauguration, which the Trump team said last Friday had raised a record $90 million. Donors won’t be made public until 90 days after the event when the reports to the Federal Election Commission are due.
None of this is illegal, good government reformers say, though Cabinet appointees will be subject to stricter ethics rules once they are confirmed.
“The way that I think about about is that what is happening right now is that President-elect Trump is pulling back the curtain on what has been going on for a while,” said Meredith McGehee, a government ethics expert and strategic adviser at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “These are all of the ways we have of raising money. He’s just doing it without shame or compunction.”
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