Inauguration Day means that it’s political party time in its most festive sense. While the soon-to-be President Donald Trump is only expected to appear at three official inaugural balls, some two dozen others are also planned for the weekend he takes the oath of office.
You may get a chance to drink bourbon, “Tip our hats and kick up our boots,” “make America Great Gatsby Again’” with Jazz Age aficionados or party with self-described “deplorables” at a DeploraBall. All the while, corporate sponsors will spend, spend, spend.
The state-sponsored, corporate backed soirees
“All politics is local,” said the legendary House Leader Tip O’Neill (D-Mass). This oft-repeated phrase seems to apply to inaugural party planning as well. According to a list compiled by OpenSecrets Blog, more than half of the inaugural balls are organized by state-level societies. These galas and balls are seen as a chance to go local while celebrating the new administration, and state society functions have been a fixture on the inauguration scene for decades.
Up first was the Black Tie and Boots ball planned by the Texas State Society of Washington at the Gaylord National Resort Thursday night. It took more than wearing boots and a bolo to be called a cowboy at this hoedown. “Cowboy Sponsor” designations cost $50,000 and ExxonMobil, Chevron, Southwest Airlines, Mayer Brown and Centurion MidStream ponied up.
Even more generous donors include hatmaker Stetson, which contributed $100,000 for the “Lone Star” designation along Toyota, PepsiCo and Exelon. BNSF Railway is listed as the sole Silver Star sponsor, which cost them a quarter of a million dollars. Employees of BNSF Railway (along with its PAC) are prominent donors, having contributed more than $3 million to federal candidates this cycle alone – almost two thirds of which went to Republicans. Those in attendance had the guidance of a Lone Star dress code: Tuxedos and boots were the suggested attire for men with “cowboy hats optional.”
The New Jersey delegation claims party-goers were “guaranteed a spectacular evening” as they “recapture[d] the fun and romance of the Jersey Shore” at the Washington Court Hotel Thursday night. Attendees could play “classic boardwalk amusement games” like skee ball and ring toss during the four hour open bar.
The top “Garden State” level sponsors are Prudential, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novo Nordisk and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. These companies collectively gave $3 million in political contributions this cycle and spent more than $11 million on lobbying the federal government the first three quarters. Food will be served from a “Boardwalk Gourmet Buffet.” Also expect a VIP appearance from Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), an early supporter of Trump’s presidential run who was removed from the transition team by the president-elect after Trump came to view Christie as a liability, according to what transition sources told POLITICO.
The Illinois State Society’s Heartland ball at the Marriott Marquis Thursday night had sponsor dollars come from diverse sources, ranging from Monsanto to the Illinois State Democrats with additional monies from “Blue Ribbon” sponsors Abbott and Motorola.
The South Carolina State Society asks: “What better location to celebrate the inauguration of our new president than in a place that hosted President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural?” Good question. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), nominated to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was expected to attend the Thursday night gala at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Sponsors include Duke Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, Comcast, Michelin, BMW, Bank of America and Aflac.
Old Ebbitt Grill, a landmark tavern in D.C. with roots dating back to 1856, was in business back when Franklin Pierce was president. The Grill is the headquarters for this inauguration’s “Best of the West” gathering (seems to be a few of those…) co-hosted by the state societies from Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Washington. In keeping with the frontier spirit, this event is planned for the day after the inauguration and the dress code is “black tie lite.” The nine sponsors range from Chevron Corp to the University of Washington.
A basket of DeploraBalls
Are there events that reflect Donald Trump’s populist message? Turns out there are a number of events open to the broader public.
Chief among these are three galas that have dubbed their own events as “deplorable,” a word originally used by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to rebuke Trump supporters. MAGA-3X, a pro-Trump group led by alt-right personalities, will hold at least 30 nationwide “DeploraBalls,” with the main event at the National Press Club in D.C. Another group, Deplorables Nation, will host “The Best Inauguration Party” at the Ronald Reagan and International Trade building.
The most inclusive of these gatherings is DC Gays for Trump’s DeploraBall, which boasts on its website that it is “the gayest gala in D.C.” No corporate sponsors will be found here, as it has relied on a GoFundMe page that has raised almost $13,000 of its $50,000 goal to cover some of its costs. Ticket prices start at $350 and the invite proclaims “All deplorables are invitees, straight, gay, whatever.”
“Whatever” may be the axiom in action for the Deplorables Nation organizer who is selling tickets to its Best Presidential Inauguration Party for $500 as a way “to celebrate freedom and MAGA,” (Make America Great Again.) The entertainment at this party includes Saints of Havana, which describes itself as “Nashville’s top-drawing, all original, unsigned Country/Rock act.” For those seeking a VIP ticket, they are available for $10,000, which will get you priority seating and bottle service at “the safest area during . . .the festivities.”
Organizers of DeploraBall have been the subject of significant controversy. Jeff Giesea, a tech industry veteran who is said to have worked for Peter Thiel and the Koch Brothers, and Mike Cernovich, an alt-right social media personality, moved quickly to remove a third organizer, Timothy Treadstone, for anti-Semitic and white Supremacist tweets. Despite this snafu, expected attendees include former Trump adviser Roger Stone, Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulis and the controversial media provocateur James O’Keefe.
For those who choose to witness the inaugural festivities from home, you can watch live coverage of the Liberty Ball and the Freedom Ball happening at the Walter E. Washington Center Friday night. These balls offered tickets as low as $50. President Trump is expected to deliver remarks and dance with the new first lady before departing for the Building Museum, where, by tradition, the president and his wife make an appearance at the Salute to Our Armed Forces Ball.
Trump’s inauguration has reportedly raised a record-breaking $100 million from individuals and corporations. While donors won’t be officially disclosed until the FEC filing 90 days after the inauguration, The New York Times has already identified some of the largest. So far, the list includes corporations like Chevron and Boeing, which contributed $500,000 and $1 million, respectively. Additionally, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam are also on the list of inaugural donors. The pair donated $20 million late last year to Future45, a super PAC that worked to elect Trump.
For day-after inaugural coverage and more about the “dollars and sense” behind D.C.’s most expensive fundraisers and parties, keep an eye out for the new OpenSecrets.org feature, politicalpartytime.org. If you’re planning on attending an inaugural event that’s not been mentioned in this post, please join the party and upload your invite here.
Researcher Alex Baumgart contributed to this post.