Dozens of New York lawyers have reached into their pockets to help new President Barack Obama help defray the cost of an inauguration that many think will be, in the words of one, "for the ages."
Barry H. Berke, a partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, said he had personally donated $10,000 and collected $40,000 from others because Obama "has the potential to be a different kind of leader, a transformational leader who goes beyond ordinary politics."
Patricia Cliff, a lawyer who is now a broker at the Corcoran Real Estate Group, said she contributed $10,000 because it is "really important to be a part of an unbelievable first in American history." Not just the election of the first black president but someone who is bringing "a whole new generation into government -- it's a very memorable experience for the whole country," she said.
John P. "Sean" Coffey, a partner at Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman, said he had contributed $50,000 because he realized that individuals would have to pick up the slack resulting from Obama's refusal to accept donations from traditional interest groups.
"I was happy to do my bit for an inauguration that will be for the ages," he said.
Altogether Obama's inaugural committee has collected about $42.1 million from private donors, according to Brent Colburn, a spokesman for the committee, and a compilation prepared for the New York Law Journal by Public Citizen, a non-profit group in Washington, D.C., that promotes openness in government.
The inaugural committee reported all donations of $200 or more, as the legal threshold for public disclosure. There were 5,632 donors in that category and another 200,000 donors who contributed less than $200, according to Public Citizen and the inaugural committee. The New York Law Journal focused its inquiry on the 141 donors identified by Public Citizen as having donated $10,000 or more from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.
The committee has almost reached its goal of matching the $42.3 million President George W. Bush's inaugural committee collected for his second inauguration in 2003, Colburn said.
Today's inauguration is expected to draw between 2 million and 4 million people. During four days of planned activities, there will be 10 officially sanctioned balls and dozens of other concerts and receptions sponsored by the committee.
The funds will be used to cover all costs associated with the inauguration except for security and the swearing-in ceremony, set for 11:30 this morning.
The committee has issued 240,000 tickets for the ceremony and thousands more for the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue that is expected to begin at 2:30 p.m. Tens of thousands more are expected to come to the Mall and join the parade route.
Obama has capped contributions at $50,000. Bush had set a $250,000 limit for both his inaugurations. Former President Bill Clinton's committee accepted contributions as large as $250,000 for the 1993 inauguration, but limited contributions to $100 in 1997. But in 1997, Clinton's committee had available a $10 million surplus from the 1993 event, Colburn said.
REPORTS REQUIRED IN 90 DAYS
Starting with Bush's inauguration in 2005, a new law required inaugural committees to make a list containing the names of all donors of more than $199 available to the public within 90 days after an inauguration.
Obama's committee is posting on its Web site, www.pic2009.org/donors, donations over $199 as soon as possible after they are received, Colburn said. In addition, the committee is voluntarily disclosing contributors' employers and the identity of those who collected donations from others and the amounts collected, he said. The committee has limited the amounts that may be collected by "bundlers" to $300,000.
By comparing the list of contributors on the Web site with the Office of Court Administration's registry of attorneys, the New York Law Journal has identified 13 New York attorneys who contributed $10,000 or more. Three attorneys, including two who made no donations of their own, were identified as having collected donations from others.
Public Citizen culled the list produced by the committee to provide the New York Law Journal with lists of donors and bundlers based in New York state.
Jay L. Kriegel, a chief of staff to former Mayor John Lindsay and now a senior advisor at the Related Companies, collected donations from others totaling $100,000, according to postings on the committee's Web site.
Alfred J. Puchala, who is employed by the Signal Equity investment firm, likewise collected $60,000 from others.
Berke, in addition to his $10,000 contribution, collected $40,000 from others.
In July, Obama attended a fundraiser at Berke's apartment that netted $150,000 for his campaign.
Berke recalled asking his three children to leave the apartment for several hours while Obama was there. Now, he has a chance to make up for their disappointment by taking them to as many inaugural events as possible, said Berke, who co-heads Kramer Levin's white-collar and securities regulation practice.
Two lawyers with past connections to The American Lawyer, a New York Law Journal affiliate, provided financial support for the inauguration. Kriegel was a former publisher of The American Lawyer, and Cynthia Brill was general counsel to the magazine. Brill now is general counsel of Verified Identity Pass Inc., a company that has developed a biometric card used to speed passage through security check points. She is married to Steven Brill, who founded both The American Lawyer and Verified Identity Pass.
Seven of the lawyers who contributed $10,000 or more to the inauguration also made contributions of more than $10,000 to the Democratic National Committee during the campaign: Alfred R. Pietrzak, a partner at Sidley Austin, $56,305; Coffey, $31,000; Edward P. Krugman, a partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, $28,500; Ira J. Statfeld, co-owner of the General Home Store in East Hampton, $28,500; Brill, $26,200; Jonathan T.A. Soros, deputy chairman of the Soros Management Fund, $21,600; and Cliff, $18,500.
Federal law caps donations to national committees at $28,500 a year. Donors can contribute that $28,500 during each of the two years within an election cycle for a maximum of $57,000.
Among the attorneys who also contributed the maximum of $4,600 allowed for Obama's primary and general campaigns were: Berke; Brill; Thomas P. Lane, a partner at Winston & Strawn; Abby Millstein, a partner at Constantine Cannon; Statfeld; and Ira M. Feinberg, a partner at Hogan & Hartson.
According to a compilation of the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, New York lawyers had contributed $6.1 million to Obama's campaign and $1.1 million to the Republican candidate's, Arizona Sen. John McCain, through Nov. 24.
For Obama, that was an increase of $600,000 over the amount his campaign had raised as of Sept. 30..
McCain's contributions remained static at $1.1 million because he accepted $84.1 million in federal funds for his campaign. Under federal law he could no longer collect contributions after his nomination on Sept. 4.
Obama had opted out of the federal funding program.
According to the compilation, which was prepared by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, New York lawyers contributed $2.5 million to the DNC and $578,000 to the Republican National Committee.