On Sunday, Jan. 20, in accordance with the Constitution, Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term as president. But Sundays aren’t great for parties. So on Monday he’ll do it again, this time in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands on the west front of the Capitol. It’s a massive logistical orchestration, one that doesn’t come cheap. Therefore, like any modern American enterprise, it’s open for sponsorship. And like anything else in Washington these days, it’s another opportunity for lobbying.
This morning, ExxonMobil announced that it is contributing $250,000 to this “important and historic event.” That sum is one-200th of the total cost of the event — and one-eighth of what the company spent trying to elect Republicans to Congress last year. Nonetheless, it’s greatly appreciated, I’m sure, and America will keep a special ember of affection burning in our hearts for ExxonMobil’s commitment to our republic. (Maybe not an ember. An oil barrel.)
Even though the inauguration is only a few days away, Exxon still got in on the ground floor. The inaugural committee didn’t announce that it would allow corporate sponsors until recently (it didn’t in 2009), and as of Monday, only eight corporations had signed on to sponsor. (One is an affiliate of Southern Energy.) The full, unformatted, hard-to-read list of “benefactors” is available online; if you see anything interesting on it, let us know.
Benefaction isn’t the only outlet for lobbyists hoping to impress folks on Capitol Hill. It’s not even the most common one. No, it’s those inaugural balls that hold that distinction, a rolling calendar of gala events that necessitate formal attire for the privilege of standing around hotel ballrooms eating mediocre food. They are not the galas that one might imagine; rather, they are waystations, appearance-making opportunities that see more foot traffic at the entrances and exits than on the dance floor. But it’s fun and there’s booze, so who can complain.
While there are only two official inaugural balls, there are dozens of others hosted by corporations and lobbying firms. They’re honey pots, hoping to lure administration figures and elected officials into even brief conversation. “Hey, Senator Jones! So glad you made it. At some point we should discuss that massive subsidy to my corporate subsidiary (I’ll schedule a time with your staff) but not tonight! Tonight, we’re here to have fun!” Etc, etc.
This year, two of the balls will be “green,” hosted by environmental and/or clean energy groups. There’s the Green Inaugural Ball, at which will.i.am will perform and — more interestingly! — Bill Nye will appear. (Fashion experts predict he’ll wear a bow tie.) That one, sponsored by environmental organizations and the solar energy lobby, is on the 20th. The next night (an always-rockin’ Tuesday night) is the enticingly named Environmental and Clean Energy Ball. It has speeches and presentations and features entertainment by “The Main Event,” so make of that what you will. It will not likely lure many flies.
On Wednesday, everything settles back down. Crews working Pennsylvania Avenue will tear down the grandstands; by this time next week it will just be Washington as usual. ExxonMobil will be $250,000 poorer, but the company will probably still scrape by. And congressional offices will be swamped with people calling for appointments. Each of those calls will start with, “Well, I ran into Senator Jones at our party and …”