Official merchandise vendor among inaugural committee donors

WASHINGTON— A Rhode Island marketing company that served as the merchandise vendor for President Obama’s reelection campaign and is playing the same role for his second inaugural committee is among the half a dozen corporations helping finance the festivities Jan. 21, when Obama will be publicly sworn in as president for a second time.

Financial Innovations Inc., which is owned by top Democratic fundraiser Mark Weiner, was paid more than $15.7 million by two Obama campaign committees to produce and mail campaign merchandise in the 2012 race, according to Federal Election Commission reports analyzed by Los Angeles Times.

According to its website, the Cranston, R.I.-based company ran the online store that sold official Obama buttons, T-shirts and other souvenirs during the campaign.

The inaugural committee, which recently began selling items through an online store such as $20 “Bo Paw” baby onesies, $15 “Obama 44” tube socks and $165 throw blankets, also hired Financial Innovations as its merchandise vendor, according to a committee official.

PHOTOS: Presidential inaugurations of the past

The overlapping relationships highlight the ties between the administration and the corporations helping pay for Obama’s inauguration.

Weiner is a longtime Democratic money man: He raised money for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary and then with his wife donated $100,000 to Obama’s first inaugural committee. In 2012, he served as one of Obama’s bundlers, helping raise between $200,000 and $500,000 for his reelection.

Weiner was traveling and unavailable, and no one else at his company could comment, according to his office.

Financial Innovations was among the six corporations and more than 400 donors overall that the 2013 presidential inaugural committee quietly listed as “benefactors” on its website Friday evening.

Other corporate donors include AT&T; and Microsoft, both federal contractors with multimillion-dollar contracts with government agencies, as USA Today first noted Tuesday.

The committee also received a donation from the St. Louis-based Centene Corp., which manages health insurance programs for states, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, set to be expanded under Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

In a note posted on the company’s website two days after the Nov. 6 election, Centene Chief Executive Michael Neidorff said the corporation is “bipartisan” and wished Obama and his administration “health and success.”

“It appears our stock has received a nice boost from the election results but that could change in a moment’s notice,” he added.

Two other donors to the inauguration committee were biotech company Genentech, a subsidiary of Roche, and Stream Line Circle, a company run by architect and gay rights activist Jon Stryker.

A seventh, the South Pasadena-based wealth management firm Whittier Trust Co., was erroneously listed last week as a donor, according to Whittier General Counsel Steven Anderson. In fact, the contribution was made by one of Whittier’s clients. Anderson would not disclose the name of the donor, but this week the inaugural committee added Laure Kastanis, a philanthropist in Portola Valley, Calif., to its list of benefactors and removed Whittier Trust.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee finances all the official inaugural events, such as the parade and the balls, but does not pay for the security and production expenses of the swearing-in itself, which are covered with taxpayer money. This year, the committee is aiming to raise about $50 million, according to Democratic fundraisers – similar to the $53.2 million raised for the 2009 inauguration, which drew an estimated 1.8 million people to the National Mall.

Under federal law, inaugural committees do not have to comply with the kind of fundraising restrictions as candidate campaigns, which are barred from accepting corporate money and can raise no more than $2,500 from individuals per election.

But the decision to allow corporations to help finance this year’s festivities is a reversal from four years ago, when the incoming Obama administration proudly announced it would not accept corporate, PAC or lobbyist money or individual donations over $50,000 to produce the inaugural events – touting the move as part of a “commitment to change business as usual in Washington.”

This year’s inaugural committee has kept the ban on lobbyist and PAC money, but is allowing corporations and individuals to give unlimited sums.

“To help cover the cost of the public events, the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee will be accepting contributions from individual and institutional donors in compliance with the laws governing contributions to an Inaugural Committee,” committee spokeswoman Aoife McCarthy said in a statement. “The PIC will not be accepting donations from lobbyists or PACs and will not be entering into any sponsorship agreements with individuals or corporations.

“Our goal is to make sure that we will meet the fundraising requirements for this civic event,” she added.

A fundraising brochure produced by the committee offers institutional donors that give $1 million and individual donors that give $250,000 perks such as tickets to a “benefactors reception,” children’s concert and the official inaugural ball, as well as reserved seats for the parade.

Democratic fundraisers said the decision to loosen the restrictions was made in part to give a break to weary donors and bundlers who feel depleted after helping bring in a record $1.1 billion for Obama’s reelection.

They noted that past inaugurations have all relied on corporate money. In 2005, dozens of companies such as Pfizer, Dow Chemical, Time Warner, Ford, Home Depot and Marriott gave up to $250,000 each to put on the festivities for President George W. Bush’s second inauguration.

“You get no credit for not doing it,” said one top Democratic fundraiser, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

But the reversal has dismayed campaign finance reform advocates.

“The corporate funders of the inauguration are going to hope to get something in return, which is heightened access and more favorable treatment,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “This is another step in the degradation of our democracy.”

Unlike four years ago, the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee is not voluntarily providing information on how much donors have given. The details about the size of the contributions will not be released until the committees files with the Federal Election Commission 90 days after Obama is sworn in, as required.

None of the corporate donors responded to requests from The Times for information about how much money they had contributed.

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matea.gold@latimes.com

Twitter: @mateagold

Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

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