Private firms fund Patrick inauguration

Globe Staff / January 6, 2011

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To pay for the inauguration festivities that will kick off his second term at the State House today, Governor Deval Patrick and his supporters have amassed a fund of more than $700,000, donated largely by insurance companies, large financial institutions, telecommunications firms, and labor unions.

The list of contributors was released by Patrick’s inaugural committee yesterday after repeated inquiries from news organizations. Under state campaign finance laws, candidates and elected officials are prohibited from accepting donations from corporations. But political figures can create nonprofit committees to raise corporate donations for special events.

Patrick — who is spending considerably less on his inauguration than he did four years ago — declined to comment yesterday on the donations. His spokesman, Kyle Sullivan, said the only comment would come from the in augural committee.

“We are proud that we are not using taxpayer resources to fund these events,’’ Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the committee, said in an e-mail.

The donations include $50,000 from Arbella Insurance Group and $25,000 each from Fidelity Investments, State Street Corp., MassMutual Financial Group, Comcast Corp., and the Laborers International Union. Utilities such as NStar, AT&T Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc. gave $10,000 each.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts also gave $10,000, as did the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

Boston’s professional sports teams also show up on the list. The Red Sox gave $15,000, and the New England Patriots and the Boston Bruins each donated $10,000.

Mary Boyle — a spokeswoman for the national office of Common Cause, the public interest group based in Washington — said the use of special-interest donations to fund inaugural celebrations is increasingly common around the country. She said the practice is not good for government because it gives those donors a strong advantage that the public does not have.

“This is just another way that special interests use to basically buy access and influence with governors,’’ Boyle said. “It is an issue in many states. Special interests are getting in a good place with people who have jurisdiction over them. They remember who threw them their parties.’’

But a spokesman for Verizon offered different reasons.

“We think it’s a good idea for businesses to be part of the ceremony, the inauguration, and participate as good corporate citizens,’’ said Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro. “There are a lot of companies who are helping out and participating, and I don’t see it [at] all as a conflict of interest.’’ Added Santoro: “I think it’s a good way for corporations to get involved in the public ceremony.’’

Tim Foley — vice president of 1199SEIU, the state’s largest health care union — said the union supports Patrick and shares “his commitment to civic engagement and community service, which are the hallmarks of this inaugural celebration.’’

Attempts to reach two dozen other companies last night were unsuccessful, or the company representatives reached declined immediate comment.

In 2007, Patrick’s organization spent $1.9 million on his inauguration festivities — the most expensive in state history — which included an inaugural ball at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, an outdoor swearing-in in front of the State House, and regional events across the state. This year the events are fewer and more modest.

Patrick’s inaugural ceremonies will kick off this morning with an interfaith prayer ceremony at the Old South Church on Boylston Street. Patrick and his lieutenant governor, Timothy P. Murray, will take the oath of office in the House chamber at the State House at noon, before welcoming the public into the building for an afternoon open house. At night, the committee is hosting a party on the theme “Celebrate Massachusetts’’ at the Boston Public Library.

Loftus said the final cost for the events has not been determined. Patrick aides have said previously that this year’s inauguration would cost less than $500,000.

“We will not know exactly what our costs are until all of the bills are paid, but we will donate any surplus funds to charity,’’ Loftus said.

Patrick’s decision to scale back this year’s ceremony is in line with a trend in state capitols around the country, with governors and legislatures facing a fiscal crunch and cognizant of their constituents’ economic hardships.

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry will put on a free barbecue, eschewing the usual black tie event, according to the Associated Press. In Minnesota, governor Mark Dayton encouraged attendees to wear blue jeans at his ball. California’s Jerry Brown kept his ceremonies lean, and capped private donations at $5,000 each.