Donor Disclosure During the Transition

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The Presidential transition is a costly effort for both the incoming and outgoing administrations. The Presidential Transitions Act appropriates $5.2 million to the transition, but the Obama transition team is anticipating much higher costs.

According to the transition chief John Podesta, the Obama-Biden Transition Project (change.gov) intends to solicit private donations with a contribution limit of $5,000 from private individuals, excluding federally registered lobbyists. In the end, Podesta expects the transition to spend $12 million (including the publicly allocated funds) and employ 450 people.

The immediate issue that comes to mind when discussing contributions of money to an organization representing the President-elect is disclosure. How? What? When? Where? After spending a few hours today trying to gather this information myself, I clicked on the Open Secrets blog, Capital Eye, and found this short and sweet answer:

According to the Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act, a single donor can contribute a total of $5,000 to the transition effort, even if the donor already gave money to Obama’s candidate committee or leadership PAC. Unlike contributions to these committees, however, donations to the nonprofit won’t have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission as political contributions because the organization is set up as a 501(c)(4), as designated by the Internal Revenue Service (these contributions are generally not tax-deductible as charitable contributions). Instead, Obama will have to disclose the source, date and amount of each contribution to the General Services Administration by February 20, a month after he’s already taken office.

Obama’s transition chief, John Podesta, told the Washington Post the team would be disclosing the names of all donors at the end of every month. Obama has also decided to bar registered lobbyists from contributing to his transition team, continuing his ethics rules on the campaign trail.

In 2000, then President-elect George W. Bush posted the donors to his transition online (although I’m not entirely sure as to whether this occurred prior to or after his inauguration). Back then, however, disclosure involved posting a giant .zip file on the front page of his bushcheneytransition.com web site.

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