Political & Election Law: The Presidential Inaugural Committee: Paying for a Good Time

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Now that the election is behind us, the press corps and many Trump supporters are turning their attention to the presidential inauguration to be held on January 20, 2017. With that shift comes a new set of rules as to how those individuals and entities can interact with those planning the festivities and how they can support the ceremony and celebrations.

It may come as a surprise to most, but the federal government only pays for a portion of all the activities that take place surrounding the inauguration: that of the actual swearing-in ceremony. All other expenses, including the costs of the parade, the celebratory balls, and the countless parties and receptions, are paid for by the Presidential Inaugural Committee or “PIC.”

The PIC is a legal entity created to fund and organize all of those events, and it may accept unlimited contributions from U.S. citizens and U.S. corporations along with permanent residents (“green card holders”) since it is not a political committee under federal law. In the past, the President-elect has chosen to restrict the contributions that the PIC can accept, but there is no legal obligation to do so. In 2008, for example, then President-elect Obama restricted his PIC from accepting contributions over $50,000 and to not accept any contributions from corporations, PACs, or registered lobbyists. President Obama relaxed those rules in 2012 to allow unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations.  In both 2000 and 2004, the George W. Bush PICs restricted contributions to a limit of $250,000. To date, there have been no restrictions on how much President-elect Trump’s PIC will accept; however, with his “Drain the Swamp” mantra, that could change.

While the current PIC may not be yet limiting its contributions, lobbyists and organizations registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) should remember that their contributions to the PIC must be reported on their semi-annual filings. Since the PIC must file a report with the FEC within 90 days after the inauguration that lists the names of all contributors and the amounts of their contributions, contributions from lobbyists can be easily cross-checked with the lobbyists’ own LDA filings.

Finally, besides the sanctioned PIC festivities, many other organizations will likely have other events coinciding with the inauguration. The timing of these events, or the fact that they are centered around the presidential inauguration, does not change the rules on what money these organizations can accept or how it is reported. Whether it’s a non-profit corporation that is hosting the event or a national political party, their same rules still apply. Therefore, contributors should know what type of organization is sponsoring the event and ensure that they are complying with the laws that apply to making contributions to those organizations. In essence, there is no “it’s for the inauguration” exception.

This blog post was written by Troy McCurry, an attorney with The Gober Group. Troy specializes in helping clients navigate the complex world of political law and government ethics regulations.