The dome of the U.S. Capitol building is seen past a microphone during a rehearsal for the inaugural ceremonies in Washington January 13, 2013. The...
KEVIN LAMARQUE

Selling access, Trump's inaugural committee collects record haul

It's pretty much the opposite of "draining the swamp." A couple of weeks after Donald Trump's improbable election victory, his inaugural committee started selling "exclusive access" to the president-elect and his team "in exchange for donations of $1 million and more."

As a New York Times report makes clear, there were plenty of contributors ready to take up the offer.

All told, the group planning the inaugural festivities says it has raised more than $100 million, which would be nearly double the record for an inauguration, with much of it coming in six- and seven-figure checks from America's corporate suites.

In exchange, Mr. Trump's most prolific donors will gain access to what amounts to a parallel inauguration week, carefully planned and largely out of public sight, during which they can mingle with members of the incoming administration over intimate meals and witness Mr. Trump's ascension from the front rows.

Trump's allies generally respond to reports like these by arguing that every modern president, from both parties, has raised millions through his inaugural committee. There's quite a bit of truth to that.

But Trump did run on a platform of ending special-interest influence in Washington -- selling access to corporate donors for $1 million a pop is quite a departure from the Republican's campaign rhetoric -- and as the Times' report added, Trump's donors "are being given greater access and facing fewer limits on donations than those in other recent inaugurations."

George W. Bush and Barack Obama, for example, put caps on individual contributions. Team Trump eliminated those caps. As a result, the previous record for the most money raised by an inaugural committee was $53 million, raised by Obama in 2008 -- which Trump has roughly doubled.

Donors will be rewarded nicely for their generosity, including meals with Trump, cabinet nominees, and congressional leaders; private tours; and "private transportation" that will "ferry donors between a handful of high-end hotels."

It's not altogether clear where all of this money will go, exactly, but a spokesperson for the inaugural committee told the Times unspent funds "will be donated to charity."

That may sound encouraging, but let's not forget that in previous instances in which Trump promised to make charitable contributions, he appears to have lied -- repeatedly.

As for the political context, as we recently discussed, it's important to remember that Trump positioned himself as a faux-populist candidate, disgusted by what he saw as routine corruption and the crushing influence of special interests who could buy access with a hefty check. "Pay to play," Trump effectively told voters, was one of the ugliest phrases in the political lexicon.

And yet, here we are, watching Team Trump put a generous price on access to themselves, and engaging in the exact behavior Candidate Trump condemned in the very recent past.