Mayor-elect Martin Walsh is still going too far in his efforts to solicit private funds to support his upcoming inaugural events. Under pressure, his inaugural committee jettisoned an internal proposal to allow private donations up to $50,000 in support of the four-day event that will include an evening gala at the Hynes Convention Center following his Jan. 6 swearing-in ceremony. But the change appears to be more cosmetic than substantive. The committee decided to settle on an upper “ask’’ of $25,000 — about half the average household income in Boston — but with an addendum that “donors are able to contribute more if they desire.’’
That's an enormous loophole. The point is to limit the amount that any one entity can give, to diminish the likelihood that it's trying to buy Walsh's favor. Simply making the fattest contributions voluntary doesn't accomplish the goal. And given the mayor's vast power over development, government contracting, and permitting of neighborhood businesses, it's quite easy to envision almost anyone seeking to do business with the mayor's office feeling encouraged to make large gifts. It's a time-honored way to seek favorable treatment, especially since there's also a private reception with Walsh for friends and family — and the largest donors.
Walsh is breaking no new ground by seeking private contributions for his inaugural events. Governor Patrick, for example, accepted donations as high as $50,000 for his inauguration after winning election in 2006. But no matter how common the practice, the act of soliciting large sums for a few days of festivities carries the risk of suspicion long after the last reveler has gone home to bed.
The Walsh committee has capped the budget for the inaugural celebration at $1 million. That still seems like a lot of money, since several of the forum-style events will be held at local nonprofit educational institutions. The Hynes gala, which includes live entertainment, is likely to be the big cost driver. The entire affair would leave a better taste if it could be accomplished while limiting single donations to $5,000 — the state maximum for contributions to city or state political committees.
A full disclosure of donors and the amounts they contributed will be made by Jan. 5, according to a Walsh spokeswoman. And no donations will be accepted from unions or political action committees. That should go some distance toward providing a comfort level for the public. But Massachusetts rightly imposes strict limits on how much any individual or interest can contribute to a candidate's campaign fund, to avoid any taint of favoritism; there should be similar limits on inaugurations.