WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama has spoken a lot about setting a new standard for ethics and transparency, and he issued an edict that his inaugural committee would bar contributions from corporations, political action committees, lobbyists, labor unions and foreigners.
But as always seems to happen, big financial interests find a way to weigh in with a pile of cash.
The watchdog group Public Citizen says nearly 80 percent of the $35.3 million raised by the Presidential Inaugural Committee to date has come from 211 wealthy donors, including a number from Wall Street firms benefiting from the mushrooming federal bailout.
Louis Sussman, vice chairman of Citigroup Corporate and Investment Banking, is among at least 32 fundraisers, known as "bundlers" who have raised $300,000 — the maximum allowed by the inaugural committee. Sussman ponied up the maximum, $50,000 in an individual donation. Citigroup, now attempting to survive by downsizing, has already received $25 billion in bailout money, the most of any bank.
In addition, the watchdog group notes, that:
-- Senior executive Mark Gilbert of Lehman Brothers, which got some federal assistance but collapsed before the $700 billion bailout was approved, raised $185,000.
-- Chairman Robert Wolf of UBS Americas raised $100,000.
-- Jennifer Scully, vice president for private wealth management at Goldman Sachs, raised $100,000.
-- Bruce Heyman, managing director of Goldman’s Private Wealth Management Group’s Midwest Region, came up with $50,000.
-- Kobi Brinson, senior vice president and assistant general counsel for Wachovia (recently merged with Wells Fargo), raised $35,000.
Also among the bundlers are executives of hedge funds and private equity funds that have invested in some of the ailing Wall Street giants.
David Arkush, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, says "it's no wonder that Wall Street is pouring so much money into this inauguration. The executive branch has given bailouts worth trillions of dollars to Wall Street firms and is considering trillions more. Wall Street has a lot at stake."