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Billionaire urges Bush to give inaugural funds to tsunami survivors

WASHINGTON—Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban has a suggestion for President Bush: Cancel the inauguration parties and donate the money saved—some $40 million—to the tsunami victims.

The irreverent, outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner won't say how much he has given to the disaster victims, but his Dec. 31 proposal on his Web site has generated controversy—and support—on the Internet.

"My point was that this was a great opportunity for the president to stand up and say that we are committed to aid, but we need to take a first step towards austerity so we can reduce the deficit," Cuban said Friday via e-mail.

"A great way to demonstrate that first step would be to have the inauguration, but cancel the parties and request the uncommitted donations be donated to the relief effort," he said.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is raising the $30 million to $40 million needed to cover costs from private donors, doesn't plan to cancel any of the nine inaugural balls or the three "candle light dinners" that donors of $250,000 and $100,000 get with the president and first lady. (Bigger donors get more tickets.)

"This unique celebration of American principles will not detract from the relief that President Bush has proposed and the American people are providing for the victims of this disaster," said Jill Willis, spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. "The inauguration is an American tradition that we should continue to honor and celebrate."

Asked if it was fair to deny Bush supporters a celebration, Cuban, who said he voted for the president, replied, "Since when is the level of celebration defined by the amount spent?"

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, whom the president tapped to head private U.S. fund-raising efforts for the tsunami victims, support the inauguration parties.

"I don't think it will help anything in Sri Lanka if the balls were, you know, peeled back in terms of the inauguration," former President Bush said Monday on CNN's "Larry King Live." "I think they're separate questions, and the country—our country—can do a lot of things at the same time."

Clinton said on the same program: "I voted for the other fellow, but President Bush won this election fair and square. And he ought to—he ought to be able to have his inaugural. And his supporters should be able to celebrate it, however they see fit. And I don't think that it will detract one red cent from the money that we will give privately or publicly to this relief effort."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Mark Cuban

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