Timken amid group paying for inauguration
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Repository Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — Industrialist W.R. “Tim” Timken Jr. will get an early opportunity to schmooze this week with the new president and vice president.
Timken, chairman and chief executive officer of the Timken Co., is among a group of more than 150 individuals and companies who donated $100,000 each to help finance the inauguration.
All are participating in the inaugural “underwriter” program. Benefits include two events with the new president and vice president — a candlelight dinner tonight and a reception Friday.
The money and access it buys are at the heart of concerns raised by opponents of the nation’s current campaign finance laws and practices.
One critic vilified the underwriter program as “yet another opportunity for wealthy corporate honchos to be able to purchase face-time with the next president and vice president.”
Defenders said the donations reflect civic mindedness on the part of the contributors and make it possible for others to attend events for free.
The Timken donation was a bundled package including $25,000 from him; $25,000 from his mother, Mary J. Timken; and $50,000 from the Timken Co.
The Presidential Inaugural Planning Committee, which is putting on the inauguration, said the program holds down costs for everyone else. Tickets to most inaugural events are free — if you can get them.
The committee is raising $30 million from private sources to pay for the bulk of the inauguration. The federal government covers some of the costs.
The most pointed criticism of the committee’s private fund-raising arrangement has come from Common Cause, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocate of open government.
Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger said the committee is “planning festivities on two tracks — one free track for large crowds of the general public, and one very expensive track for an elite and exclusive group of well-heeled tycoons, many of whom will have business pending before the next administration and the Congress.”
Defending the current arrangement, committee spokeswoman Natalie Rule said there is a long tradition of private fund-raising for the inauguration.
“These are good responsible individuals who have chosen to help make this affordable,’’ she said.
Rule points out that the Bush committee has voluntarily listed all contributions on its Web site, even though federal law does not require it.
“Maybe there would be some validity to (the influence-buying charges) if the sun weren’t shining so brightly on every bit of fund-raising that we are doing,’’ Rule said.
In addition, the committee voluntarily limited single donations to $100,000, unlike committees than ran the Clinton inaugurations in 1993 and 1997. Those committees accepted single contributions exceeding $400,000.
The committee does allow multiple subsidiaries of the same company to donate $100,000 each. It also permits an individual from a company to contribute $100,000 while that individual’s firm also kicks in $100,000.
In return for $100,000, an underwriter get up to 10 tickets to public inaugural events, including the opening ceremony Thursday, events with soon-to-be First lady Laura Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney on Friday, the swearing-in ceremony, parade and inaugural ball Saturday, and a national prayer service Sunday.
Timken did not have time to specifically discuss his contribution or what he might expect in return — if anything, a spokesman said.
But, as Timken prepared to leave for the inaugural, he did say he planned to discuss “pro-growth” topics with people he meets there. Also on his agenda are tax cuts, lower interest rates and an “anti-contraction’’ policy with regard to the economy.
Timken Co. has long lobbied on policies and laws affecting trade, the steel industry and manufacturing.
During the 1999-2000 election cycle, Timken ranked seventh among Ohio companies for its $622,175 in contributions to federal candidates and political parties. Those donations came from the company, its political action committee, or its owners, employees and their families, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
Timken ranked 12th among auto and steel makers nationwide for its PAC and soft money donations from January 1991 through June 1997, the center reports. In recent years, the majority of the company’s political contributions have gone to Republican candidates and organizations.
Harshbarger believes that most of the underwriters view themselves as buying access to the president or other top administration officials for some future time when they or their companies attempt to influence federal policy.
The Bush and Cheney couples are expected to attend three exclusive dinners Thursday for contributors, while at the husbands will attend a reception at the Library of Congress on Friday night.
During the events, Bush and Cheney are expected to move through the room to greet donors. “It doesn’t promise you are going to have a detailed conversation’’ with the president, spokeswoman Rule said.
But no matter how short an exchange donors get, Bush or his aides will know they “contributed” to an event that was very important to them and their success,’’ Harshbarger said.
Others defended the practice.
“Regardless of what type of fund-raising you do, whether it’s in the political arena, private or foundation, you always have a small group of people who will write larger checks to underwrite the events, who will
be given the opportunity to have special seating at an event to get face-time,’’ said Bob Bennett, chairman of Ohio’s Republican Party. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all.’’
Repository reporter G. Patrick Kelley contributed to this report.