They’ll be treated to an “intimate” dinner with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and his wife. Then there’s the “elegant” meal by candlelight — part of inaugural festivities described by the event’s planner as having a “soft sensuality.”
All that and more could be yours if you ponied up at least $250,000 to help fund Friday’s inaugural events, according to a brochure obtained by multiple news outlets.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has raised at least $90 million — a record — to pay for the festivities and provide big donors some face time with the new administration. Donors at the $100,000 level even get a “policy discussion and dinner with select Cabinet appointees.”
In addition to the aerospace giant Boeing ($1 million donated) and the oil company Chevron ($500,000), AT&T, Verizon, and Coca-Cola are among the big companies helping fund the galas, balls, and other pomp and circumstance welcoming Trump to the White House on Friday.
Presidents in both parties have long welcomed corporate donors to their inaugurations. What’s different this year is the amount raised — roughly equal to the sum of each of President Barack Obama’s — and a lack of transparency. Trump inaugural officials have broken with recent tradition and declined to release donor information before the event.
Critics say this cozy access for corporations and special interests goes against Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
“This is very dangerous,” Fred Wertheimer, president of the nonpartisan government accountability organization Democracy 21, told Business Insider. “It is a form of filling the swamp rather than emptying it, to use the words of the president-elect.”
What are they paying for?
The only part of the inauguration mandated by the Constitution is the swearing-in ceremony. And the expense associated with the president-elect standing on the steps of the Capitol and putting his hand on a Bible comes from taxpayers, not donors; it’s managed by a separate congressional planning committee. Likewise, part of the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue is managed by the US military and paid for out of its budget.
Everything else, the ad hoc inaugural committee pays for with corporate and other donor support: the concerts, porta-potties, and jumbo TV screens. The style and schedule of the inaugural events are entirely up to the incoming administration’s inaugural committee, which can also decide how much contact donors have with the new leaders.
“It’s a blank slate,” said Brian Screnar, who was finance director for Obama’s 2009 inaugural committee. “What access can you provide? Tons, or zero. That’s all a choice.”
Obama forbade all corporate giving and all donations above $50,000 at his 2009 swearing-in. That changed in 2013 for his second inauguration, when the administration reversed course and welcomed donations from big companies. Corporations like AT&T spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the event.
Screnar told Business Insider that forbidding corporate giving can cause problems for organizers. If a company wanted to host a free concert, for instance, it could be considered an in-kind contribution. And the ban didn’t prevent some CEOs from shaking hands with the president-elect in 2009.
“President Bush took it. President Clinton took it. Now President Trump will take it,” Screnar said. “The inauguration is a one-time hit. I don’t think you can get that much access.”
But watchdogs say what’s notable this year is the brazenness of the promises of access, like the small discussions with Cabinet nominees for big-ticket donors.
“The pay-for-play aspect of this one — special access for special money — is not typical,” Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told Business Insider. “The money for the companies is chump change, and they will have access regardless. But, of course, it gets a little extra special treatment.”
The information we have, such as Boeing’s $1 million gift, comes from voluntary disclosures by the companies themselves. The Presidential Inaugural Committee did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Boeing’s and Chevron’s gifts are among the biggest known. Coca-Cola said this year’s donation will be in-line with what it gave in 2013, which was a little over $431,000. Verizon told Business Insider it’s contributing $100,000 to this year’s events. AT&T is also donating but declined to say how much.
Boeing is giving the same amount it did in 2013. However, Chevron seems to have dialed back its contribution. Chevron gave $1 million in 2013, according to OpenSecrets, a website that compiles federal campaign contributions and lobbying data.
Of course, the companies giving to the inauguration could be significantly affected by the Trump team’s policy proposals — and while that could be said of any business, it’s still difficult for ethics watchdogs to overlook.
“There’s a very self-serving reason for funding the inauguration,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, which advocates reducing the influence of big corporations in politics.
Boeing’s future, for instance, is heavily dependent on US defense contracts; Trump has threatened to cancel the new Air Force One that Boeing is developing. And his foreign policy could affect Boeing’s ability to sell planes to countries like Iran and China.
“What it is, is buying time with the president and Cabinet officials,” Holman told Business Insider.
Boeing declined to comment when asked whether its contribution could be seen as “buying access” to government officials.
A Chevron spokesperson said the company has long participated in presidential inaugurations and has “worked successfully with 23 different presidential administrations.”
What time is Donald Trump's inauguration as President? Who is attending and all you need to know about the schedule as he takes office in 2017
Barack Obama is spending his final day as President - and Donald Trump is preparing to take office.
Tomorrow the billionaire will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States in a grand ceremony in Washington DC.
So when is the event, and what are the traditions that surround it? And how is Trump starting the celebrations early?
Presidents are sworn in on January 20 every four years come rain, frost or hail in an outdoor ceremony outside the US Capitol.
It's surrounded by pomp and ceremony, quirk and intrigue, and an all-American parade.
Here's everything you need to know about the inauguration - and how you can watch.
What's happening on Inauguration Eve?
The Lincoln Memorial will be the focus point for events on Thursday 19 January, as Donald Trump's supporters enjoy a Make America Great Again! Welcome Concert from 4pm local time (9pm UK time).
Earlier in the day is a Voices of the People event, where marching bands and baton twirlers are likely to feature heavily from 10.35am (3.35pm UK time).
A more sombre moment will come when Trump and his Vice President elect Mike Pence take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
For the Obamas, it is a time of reflection - and potentially a few more last minute pardons - before quitting the White House for their new home, reportedly a £4.8million Washington mansion.
The 58th Presidential Inauguration happens at noon local time (5pm GMT) on Friday 20 January.
The main ceremonies begin in the morning at the White House and end at a number Inaugural Balls across the city of Washington DC.
The most famous bit - Trump's 35-word swearing-in - will happen on a 10,000 square foot specially-built platform in front of the Capitol that holds 1,600 people.
Some inaugurations have been held at the White House but the modern tradition is to hold them outside the domed home of the US legislature.
The prime 1,600 guests will include Barack Obama, the Speaker of the House, former Presidents, diplomatic corps, Cabinet members and nominees, Congressmen and women, governors and the joint chiefs of staff.
So that'll be George W Bush, who Trump accused of lying about Iraq, and Bill Clinton, who he called "the worst abuser of women in US political history".
There's also Bill's wife Hillary, who you may remember vaguely from somewhere.
It'll be a rare public appearance for former Democratic nominee Mrs Clinton - dubbed "crooked Hillary" by Trump during the bitter election campaign - since her defeat in November.
Since she gave her concession speech it's emerged she beat Trump by a wide margin in the popular vote, even though he won through the electoral college.
What about celebrities?
Donald Trump tweeted before Christmas: "The so-called "A" list celebrities are all wanting tixs to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!"
But it is a modern tradition for musicians to perform as part of the festivities. Beyonce even sang at an inaugural ball in 2009.
And this time it's not been without controversy.
Reports have suggested Team Trump struggled to find acts to perform in his honour after his hard-line statements during the election.
America's Got Talent runner-up Jackie Evancho, 16, will perform the national anthem. Trump's claimed her album sales have "skyrocketed" since she was announced.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir from Salt Lake City, Utah, is set to perform at its sixth inauguration in a row. But one member quit saying she didn't want to "endorse tyranny and fascism".
Several members of the Radio City Rockettes dance troupe will also not perform after the group was signed up, despite Rockette leaders urging them to be "tolerant of intolerance".
So who else was invited to perform? A few people, it would seem.
UK X Factor 2010 runner-up Rebecca Ferguson said she was invited, but wouldn't come unless she could sing Strange Fruit - a 1930s anti-racism anthem.
And Charlotte Church says she's been approached by Trump's team - and replied with a strong no.
She tweeted: "Your staff have asked me to sing at your inauguration, a simple Internet search would show I think you're a tyrant. Bye".
She followed her message with four 'pile of poo' emojis.
What happens on Inauguration Day?
There are 9 traditions on the day that are regularly followed. Here they are, courtesy of information provided by the US government.
- A morning prayer: Franklin D Roosevelt began this tradition for the incoming President in 1933. Presidents Obama, Bush, Bush, Reagan, Truman and Roosevelt all attended theirs at the St John's Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House.
- The 2 Presidents join forces: The departing and incoming President have a brief meeting at the White House before travelling together for two miles to the Capitol, home of the US legislature and scene of all modern-day inaugurations.
- Vice President takes the oath: Vice-President-elect Mike Pence will be the first to repeat the oath of office, likely to be read to him by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, on the 'Inaugural platform' outside the Capitol.
- The President is sworn in: Here's the famous bit. All being well this will be outdoors too - though freezing weather has forced past Presidents indoors as recently as Ronald Reagan in 1985. Trump will likely swear on the Bible. The 35-word oath must be read exactly as in the constitution and in 2009 Obama took it again because a word was in the wrong place.
- The Inaugural Address: Every President since George Washington has delivered one, ranging from his 135 words to William Henry Harrison's 8,445 words in 1841. ( Expect history to be made. Roosevelt declared in 1933: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself". In 1961 John F Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
- Everyone say Bye Obama! With that the ex-President usually makes a swift and high-profile exit. Since 1977 this has happened by sending him into a helicopter, but it's also happened by train, car and jet.
- Time for lunch: A bit like a wedding, the formal bit's now over and gives way to a long afternoon of feasting and partying. The Inaugural Luncheon is held in the Capitol's grand Statuary Hall and includes speeches and food from the President's home state. New York pastrami anyone?
- The Inaugural Parade: The new President takes up his seat in the Presidential Reviewing Stand (yes, really) to review more than 8,000 ceremonial soldiers, floats and marching bands proceeding down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Think everyone from the Boy Scouts of America to several High School bands. Jimmy Carter broke precedent by joining the parade himself.
- And finally... Inaugural Balls: Washington DC's high society comes alive with the glitz and glamour of black-tie parties. It's exhausting for the President, who tries to attend every official do. The peak year was 1997, when there were 14 for Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama attended 10 in 2009. The number for Trump is still being worked out.