At the start of every new president’s term, well-heeled corporations and billionaires have the opportunity to make a down payment on access to the new administration — in the form of a donation to its inaugural committee. For special interests that picked the wrong horse during the preceding campaign, this is an especially valuable second chance to make a good “first impression.” And since corporate America was unusually stingy toward the Republican nominee in 2016, it went above and beyond in January 2017.
Donald Trump’s inauguration may have attracted fewer people than Barack Obama’s — but it reeled in twice as much money. Obama raised $53.2 million for his opening-day festivities — Trump raked in $107 million.
It is virtually impossible to spend that much money on an inauguration, even on one held for a billionaire with a talent for overindulgence. The chairman of the president’s inaugural committee, the investor and longtime Trump friend Thomas Barrack, vowed to donate the excess funds to charity. In September, he pledged $3 million of the committee’s money to the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Samaritan’s Purse, to aid hurricane relief efforts.
But on Thursday, with the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration fast approaching, USA Today reported that it was both unable to confirm that those donations went through, or determine where the rest of the money went:
“We must decline comment at this time,” Kristin Celauro, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee’s chairman, Thomas Barrack, said this week in response to a USA TODAY inquiry about the committee’s finances.
… Officials with the American Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse, a group led by evangelist Franklin Graham, declined to comment this week about the inaugural committee donations, saying they do not disclose contributor information. Officials with the Salvation Army did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
While inaugural committees are required to disclose the names of donors who give more than $199, election law does not mandate that they account for their spending — or place many restrictions on how excess funds can be spent. The money isn’t supposed to go toward personal uses — like, to pick a random hypothetical, to defray the costs of the president’s unexpectedly high legal bills — but beyond that, most anything goes.