President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration will be smaller than normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and much of the usual pageantry will be virtual. Biden’s inaugural committee has urged people not to physically attend the inauguration but instead experience it at a distance, and members of Congress, who usually get to divide up 200,000 tickets for seats close to the inauguration platform, will get to bring just one guest each.
At the same time, Biden’s allies are fund-raising for the celebratory post-swearing-in events more or less as if it were a normal inauguration, The New York Times reports. There are few legal limits on who can donate to an inaugural committee or how much they can give. Biden’s committee has said it won’t accept donations from fossil fuel interests, lobbyists, or foreign agents, but other corporations can give up to $1 million and individuals can donate up to $500,000. Any unused funds are typically donated to charity.
Big spenders can opt for “VIP participation” in a virtual concert, “VIP tickets” to a future celebratory event, invitation to virtual inauguration events, and “virtual signed photos” with Biden, Vide President-elect Kamala Harris, and their spouses. Event planners are using the Democratic National Convention as a template for the “reimagined” parade and other events.
A coalition of about 50 progressive groups sent Biden’s inaugural committee a letter Wednesday urging it to forego corporate donations. “The drive to raise so much money without a clear use for it is perplexing, and the appearance of doing so is disconcerting,” the letter said. President Trump’s 2017 inauguration, the Times notes, raked in $107 million and “became an access-peddling bazaar of sorts, and aspects of its record fund-raising and spending emerged as the subjects of investigations.”
An inaugural committee spokesman declined to tell the Times how much has already been raised or what the goal is, but Biden has pledged to disclose all major donors before Jan. 20. This isn’t the first presidential inauguration pared down due to a crisis, Rachel Maddow noted on MSNBC Wednesday night. She used Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration as an example, and she found more parallels than just the size and scope of the festivities.
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