A well-connected Rhode Island couple has donated $100,000 for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Mark and Susan Weiner of East Greenwich, longtime Democratic fundraisers, each gave $50,000, the maximum amount allowed by the Obama administration.
Obama set the strictest limits ever for a presidential inauguration, limiting individual donations to $50,000 and declining contributions from corporations, unions, lobbyists, or political action committees. In 2005, President George Bush accepted contributions from all sources and limited individual donors to $250,000.
Contributions from the Weiners and others, however, raise questions.
"Donors to the inauguration will get up-close access to the new administration, establishing themselves on day one as some of the most supportive of the president-elect's supporters," Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Washington, DC-based Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), says via e-mail, "The question is, what, if anything, will they get in return — not just on Inauguration Day, but as the real work begins?"
Ritsch notes the Weiners' inaugural contributions far exceed the $2300 limit on presidential campaign contributions.
John Marion, the new executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, says, "Private money going to public officials is something we need to keep an eye on."
Mark and Susan Weiner did not return phone calls from the Phoenix.
Mark Weiner has been a prominent Democratic fundraiser for more than 20 years. Records compiled by the CRP show that he and his wife donated $536,544 to federal candidates and PACs since 1993.
Rhode Island Board of Elections records indicate the couple gave another $77,180 to state candidates since 2002, the first year for which computerized information is available. Recently released records reveal that Mark Weiner gave between $100,001 and $250,000 to former President Bill Clinton's foundation.
The Weiners frequently hold high-priced fundraisers at their East Greenwich home. In 2004, Weiner led fundraising in Rhode Island for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, and he collected more than $100,000 for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008, according to the Boston Globe.
Meanwhile, in February 2008, the Washington Post reported that Weiner's business, Cranston-based Financial Innovations, a supplier of advertising, received more than $800,000 for printing from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
In 2006, Weiner's company received $213,659 for materials from Clinton's New York Senate campaign, according to the Providence Journal. In 2004, Business Wire reported that the Democratic National Committee granted Weiner exclusive rights to produce a convention program book. Financial Innovations also sells T-shirts, coffee mugs, and pins for the national firefighters' and communications workers' unions.
Weiner has received some prominent appointments. In 2000, while serving as treasurer of the National Governors Association, he was appointed by President Clinton to the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Rhode Island Democratic Party also selected Weiner as one of Rhode Island's four representatives to the Electoral College in the last three presidential elections.
Weiner's connections have raised controversy in the past. In 1987, while serving as secretary of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, he was criticized for crossing partisan lines by helping Republican Governor Edward DiPrete to get a ride with Richard Oster on Cookson America's corporate jet, so that DiPrete could attend his $1000-a-plate fundraiser in New York City.
And in 1992, Weiner was forced to resign as state Democratic Party chairman after it was revealed that he made phone calls on behalf of a life insurance company seeking a state contract. The company also made a $7000 contribution to Governor Bruce Sundlun's campaign and did $21,000 in business with Financial Innovations.
The only other Rhode Islanders to donate to the Obama inauguration are James Duncan of Narragansett ($1000) and Antonio Silva of East Providence ($250).