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Published: Tuesday, 12/9/2008

Obama's party

ALTHOUGH there is still an extraordinary amount of political money sloshing around as President-elect Barack Obama moves toward Washington, his approach to paying for the inauguration augurs well for a less lobbyist-dominated capital during the new administration.

Two of the least-regulated moments financially in a presidential administration are the inauguration and the post-office construction of the presidential library. These are the times when lobbyists, contractors, and other favor-seekers step up to provide sometimes very large amounts of cash, with virtually no independent oversight. President Bush's 2005 inauguration cost an estimated $42 million, which came mostly from corporations and executives.

The inauguration of a new president, particularly when it is a watershed moment such as Mr. Obama's, is an event in which as many Americans as possible should be able to participate. Estimates for attendance at the Jan. 20 swearing-in and the festivities surrounding it run as high as 4 million. All of that inevitably costs money.

Mr. Obama's office announced that it would accept no contributions from corporations, political action committees, registered lobbyists or foreign agents, or noncitizens. Contributions will be capped at $50,000 a head. These are the most stringent limits that have ever been applied to inauguration donations.

Mr. Obama's approach is consistent with the state of the economy. The United States shouldn't be having a big, gaudy blowout when job losses and the unemployment rate are at frightening levels. His approach also fits the emphasis he says his administration will place on bettering the lot of middle-class Americans.

The inauguration must be fun and open, but it doesn't need to involve an enormous expenditure of money provided by fat cats who will want something later.

The Obama approach seems to reflect those principles.

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