How Much Did the 2013 Inauguration Cost, and Who Paid?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 22 2013 2:13 PM

Congratulations, Mr. President. And Thanks for the Cheez-Its.

A mini-Explainer on how much the inauguration cost, and who paid for it.

The place card for U.S. President Barack Obama sits ready for the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on inauguration day at the U.S. Capitol building January 21, 2013 in Washington D.C.
President Barack Obama place card for the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall on Jan. 21, 2013 in Washington D.C.

Photograph by Allison Shelley/Getty Images

President Obama’s second inauguration featured both the opulent, like 3,000 calories of lobster and grilled bison, and the humble, like bowls full of Cheez-Its. Explainer readers are wondering, how much did all of that cost?

Probably around $180 million. It will be months before we know the exact price of the inauguration, but the cost of these events in recent years has risen at roughly the same rate as inflation. President Bush’s 2005 inaugural cost $158 million, which is $173 million in 2009 dollars. That happens to be just a little more than the $170 million spent on President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.* If the trend continues, the 2013 festivities will cost about $10 million more. If you had to bet, you might expect this year’s inauguration to come in a little bit lower. Nearly twice as many people attended the 2009 swearing-in, when there were 10 inauguration balls, compared to just two this year.

The swearing-in itself is a relative bargain, costing just $1.24 million in 2009. It’s the logistics and the carousing that add up. Security, transportation, and emergency services cost $124 million four years ago, paid almost entirely by the federal government. (Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. cover some of the expenses upfront, but Uncle Sam reimburses them.) The parties and balls that followed the inauguration totaled roughly $45 million, paid entirely by private donations to President Obama’s inaugural committee.

It appears that donations ran a little short this year, which might explain the inaugural Cheez-Its. The committee announced a goal to raise $50 million, but it had a 10 percent shortfall despite abandoning the 2009 committee’s $50,000 limit per donor. Many of the celebrities who donated big for Obama’s first inauguration, including Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, and Bill and Melinda Gates, held back this year. Other celebs, like actor B.D. Wong and Carter Beauford, the drummer from the Dave Matthews Band, donated generously. Major companies like AT&T and Bank of America also chipped in, as did unions including the American Federation of Government Employees and the American Postal Workers Union.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Correction, Jan. 23, 2013: This article original stated that the 2005 inauguration cost slightly less than the 2009 inauguration in inflation-adjusted terms. It cost slightly more. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Brian Palmer is Slate's chief explainer. He also writes How and Why and Ecologic for the Washington Post. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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