High-powered group, most from Chicago, plans Obama inaugural

By Carol Eisenberg

November 26, 2008 at 12:56pm

The group overseeing Barack Obama’s Jan. 20 inaugural boasts a bipartisan roster of go-getters, most with deep Chicago roots.

In addition to Democrats William Daley, Penny Pritzker, John W. Rogers Jr. and Julianna Smoot, Republican Patrick G. Ryan, the businessman who heads Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, is a co-chair.

By drawing big names from both parties, Obama is clearly hoping to emphasize his commitment to a bipartisan governing style.

Ryan’s participation particularly helps boost the image of collegiality. The chairman of Chicago-based Aon Corporation has been a major donor to George W. Bush and the Illinois Republican Party. On the other hand, he is spearheading Chicago’s Olympic bid, and it can’t have hurt that Obama made a video last week extolling the Windy City to the International Olympic Committee.

The other co-chairs of the inaugural committee are longtime Obama pals, as well as fund-raisers.

Pritzker, the hotel heiress, and Smoot, a professional Democratic fund-raiser, are credited with Obama’s record-setting campaign war chest.

Daley, a former Commerce secretary and the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, is a Chicago bank executive. Rogers, a longtime friend, is the founder of Ariel Capital Management. (His ex-wife, Desirée Rogers, is set to become White House social secretary.)

The committee will go to some lengths to honor another Obama pledge - to reduce the influence of money on government – by limiting donations to $50,000. George W. Bush’s inaugural committees accepted contributions as high as $250,000, according to the New York Times.

It will also bar any contributions from corporations, political action committees, lobbyists who are currently registered with the federal government, people who are not citizens of the United States and from registered foreign agents.

No pricetag has been put on this inaugural, which is expected to draw a record number of people to the Capitol, perhaps in the millions. To get some perspective, Bush spent around $40 million on his inaugural events in 2005, much of which was raised from corporations and lobbyists.

Committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass said higher costs than usual are expected as a result of the president-elect’s intention to open as many events as possible to the public.

“This inauguration is more than just a celebration of an election,” she said. “This is an event that can be used to inspire and galvanize the public to act. That is what we’re aiming for.”

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