Give a little, get a little

Published January 14, 2005 12:15AM (EST)

As one of the few occasions when corporations can come out and openly bask in the political limelight, there is something a little Cinderella-ish about inaugurations. This year's no exception, and with record contributions of up to $250,000 apiece from oil, insurance and pharmaceutical conglomerates, it's going to be a hell of a party.

Thursday's Washington Post takes a look at some of the inauguration's corporate donors, and wonders whether they might have any motive besides patriotism:

"Practically all the major donors have benefited from Bush administration policies, especially from corporate and individual tax cuts, deregulation and the new prescription drug benefit that is part of Medicare. Most also stand to boost profits further because of Bush's second-term proposals, which include limiting medical malpractice suits, creating private investment accounts as part of Social Security and making a tax-code revision that is expected to reduce taxes on investments.

"Many donors are corporations and executives that are regulated by the federal government, dependent on government tax and spending policies, or both. At least 16 donors are from the finance industry, 14 are from the energy sector, six are real estate developers, and at least five are from both the health and telecommunications industries. The Washington Post Co. has pledged $100,000."

That last line came as a surprise to War Room, particularly as the Post Co. isn't listed on the donor page of the inaugural committee's Web site. And while we couldn't admire more the "bite the hand that feeds you" spirit that the Post's reporters showed by including their parent corporation in an article on unseemly political contributions, we were a little curious as to why the Post was bankrolling the celebration in the first place.

According to Patrick Butler, vice president of the Washington Post Co., currying favor with the administration has nothing to do with it. Instead, the donation was made at the request of the Post's advertising department, which was looking to secure 50 inaugural ball tickets for their clients. And although the tickets are only supposed to cost $150 apiece, they're invitation only, and hard to get -- unless somebody puts a little grease in the wheels. Thus the extra 85 grand above the tickets' face value.

"People can buy sponsorships for whatever reason they want, but we bought ours just to get the tickets," Butler told War Room. "That's the beginning and the end of it."

To be fair, this isn't the first time the Post Co. has seen fit to get inaugural ball tickets for its advertising clients. "We've been doing it since 1993," Butler says, though it was cheaper during the Clinton years -- for the 1997 inauguration, they only had to shell out $15,000 to buy the tickets at face value.

"Believe me, it's not the way we would prefer to do this. We would have hoped to have bought these tickets without being an official sponsor," Butler says. "But it didn't work out that way." And despite the suspicious tone of the Post's own reporting, he insists the Post Co. isn't looking for favors: "We're not doing any candlelight dinners."

Still, at least one media expert has his doubts about the Post's privilege. "I'm a little surprised," said Mike Hoyt, executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. "That seems like something a newspaper company would automatically want to keep an arm's length from."

By Jeff Horwitz

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