Politico reports that the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), a tax exempt organization, is sharing with Democratic Party fundraisers the personal data it obtains from users of a PIC Smartphone application. If you type in a request for information about finding a Metro train or a bathroom near the inaugural events, you could end up on a mailing list used to raise money for the next election.
Such an arrangement involves coordinated fundraising by the PIC and political organizations. As the White House ethics lawyer in 2005 I spent considerable time on PIC issues and insisted that PIC operations be conducted entirely apart from those of the RNC. The facts alleged in the Politico story are troubling for several reasons:
First, the PIC could lose its tax exempt status if it coordinates with political organizations. If they do, the IRS should send them a bill. PIC is funded largely by people in the top .1% of income earners and the rest of us need the money.
Second, and most important, the inauguration is an opportunity for all Americans to unite behind the President even if we do not all agree with his policies. It is not a partisan event. Using the festivities to raise money for a political party is crass and contrary to the spirit of bipartisanship that the President needs to succeed in his second term. Democrats who attend the inaugural events are of course free to have fundraisers elsewhere, but government officials participating in the inauguration and the PIC should do everything possible to keep political functions away from the official ceremony. That includes keeping the Democratic Party and other political organizations away from Smartphone applications and other tools used to help people attending the ceremony.
The White House ethics office should step in -- as we would have done in 2005 -- and insist that any data sharing between PIC and political organizations stop immediately.