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Obama hasn't reined in Big Money

Relaxed inauguration rules reflect how he has largely given up the fight for what was once a high priority.

January 10, 2013|Matea Gold and Christi Parsons

Obama is frequently pressed by supporters to take on the issue. On the campaign trail last year, donors at closed-door fundraisers asked what could be done to keep the other side from "buying" elections, as they often put it. The president, a constitutional lawyer by training, frequently replied that the only solution was a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Obama floated that idea on the social news site Reddit in August.

"Even if the amendment process falls short," Obama wrote, "it can shine a spotlight ... and help apply pressure for change."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, January 12, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 Local Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Money and politics: In the Jan. 10 Section A, an article about President Obama's record on limiting the influence of money in politics said that the third anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case is Jan. 20. The anniversary is Jan. 21.

White House advisors say the remark just reflected Obama's grim analysis of what would be needed to change the system. Now that he has been reelected, his team is focused on the federal budget deficit, gun violence and immigration -- not campaign finance reform.

Such thinking infuriates advocates of stricter fundraising rules. Obama's legislative agenda will not succeed without changing "a campaign finance system that puts enormous power behind special interests," said Larry Noble, former general counsel to the FEC and president of Americans for Campaign Reform.

Some of those deep-pocketed interests will have a role in the inauguration: A half-dozen corporations have donated money to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which puts on the official parade and balls. This year, the committee aims to raise about $50 million, according to fundraisers involved -- similar to the $53.2 million raised for the 2009 inauguration, which drew an estimated 1.8 million people to the National Mall.

To raise the cash, party officials were reluctant to lean too heavily on the same weary major supporters who helped bring in a record $1.1 billion for Obama's reelection.

As the discussions unfolded last fall, the president's advisors agreed that taking money from a handful of corporations was palatable, especially since the donations were not linked to his reelection.

Unlike four years ago, however, the inaugural committee is not releasing details about how much donors have given, but it will have to report that to the FEC in April.

The committee's looser rules dismay campaign finance reform advocates, who had hoped Obama would renew his quest to limit the role of Big Money in Washington.

"The current system is unacceptable," Noble said. "President Obama said that at one time, and I'd like to believe the president still believes that. If so, you do something about it. You at least put up a fight."

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matea.gold@latimes.com

christi.parsons@latimes.com

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