Moore inaugural celebrations cost $4.3M, largely funded by big dollar donors

Published 3/7/2023 5:32 p.m. EST, Updated 3/7/2023 9:34 p.m. EST

Gov. Wes Moore, with his son, James, 11, speaks during his inaugural ball, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, in Baltimore.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller threw more than $4 million worth of inaugural celebrations in January that were financed in large part by donations from corporations and wealthy power brokers.

The Moore Miller Inaugural Committee accepted nearly $4.6 million in ticket sales and donations, and spent about $4.3 million, mostly on a party for several thousand supporters in downtown Baltimore.

The details of the finances behind the inauguration were disclosed in a report stretching more than 1,800 pages that the inaugural committee filed with state officials on Tuesday. This is just the second time that a new governor is required to report inauguration finances, a change that was made during the tenure of former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan’s second inaugural party, a celebration at the MGM National Harbor Casino, was an affair that cost about $1.6 million.

Donations to inaugural committees are separate from typical campaign donations, and donors are not bound to any limits on contributions. Campaign donations are limited to $6,000 to a given candidate over a four-year period.

Moore’s inaugural party, dubbed “The People’s Ball,” was so popular that the planning committee sold out of the initial run of 8,000 tickets and had to open up tickets for an overflow ballroom at the Baltimore Convention Center. Partygoers packed the convention center shoulder-to-shoulder to glimpse the state’s new top leaders and dance to DJs and musical artists.

Tickets were offered at three price points: $50, $125 and $1,500 for premium tickets.

Individuals who bought tickets contributed just shy of $1.4 million combined, while other donors, campaign committees and political action committees made up the rest of the contributions. While most contributors listed a Maryland address, a majority of the dollars were contributed by donors outside the state, a Banner analysis found.

Corporate donors who gave between $10,000 and $30,000 include many well-known companies that do business in Maryland, among them: Amazon, BGE, CareFirst, Caesars Entertainment, Caves Valley Partners, Comcast, Constellation Energy, Curio Wellness, CSX Corporation, CVS Health, Exelon Corporation, Fraport (which operates shops and restaurants at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport), HMS Host, Johns Hopkins, La Cite Development, Luminis Health, McCormick, MedStar Health, MGM Resorts, the Murphy, Falcon & Murphy law firm, Northeast Maglev, NRG Energy, Redwood Capital Investments, Transurban USA (selected to build and operate toll lanes in Maryland), the University of Maryland Medical System, US Wind, the Venable law firm, Verizon and Washington Gas.

Sports-related businesses also donated, including the Baltimore Ravens ($10,000), the Baltimore Orioles ($15,000), the Washington Commanders ($10,000) and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network ($15,000). The Orioles are negotiating with the state for a new lease at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, while the Baltimore Ravens settled on a new lease at M&T Bank Stadium shortly before Moore took office.

There were also several donations from unions. The Maryland State Education Association, which represents public school teachers, gave $30,000. AFSCME, the largest union for state government employees, gave $15,000.

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The most common donations were $5,000 and $10,000, respectively. Together, they accounted for about 37% of all contributions.

A representative for the Moore Miller Inaugural Committee did not directly respond to questions from The Baltimore Banner about what benefits were granted to sponsors and how the governor and lieutenant governor would handle potential conflicts of interest involving sponsors who have business before state government.

“We were proud to set contribution limits,” Connor Lounsbury, a senior adviser for the Moore campaign and inaugural committee, said in a statement. “As Governor Moore continues to make clear with the legislation he champions, he answers directly to the people of Maryland.”

The inaugural committee capped contributions at $30,000, according to Lounsbury. He said the inaugural gala “wasn’t about a single person or political party; it was about the people of Maryland.”

Famous donors include NBA star Kevin Durant, comedian Howie Mandel and attorney/author/producer Crystal McCrary, who each donated $10,000.

Hedge fund manager Paul Touradji, who was involved in a multimillion-dollar legal dispute with former employees, donated $10,000.

Charles Phillips, co-chair of the Black Economic Alliance and former board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, donated $30,000. Aaron Holiday, founder of venture capital firm 645 Ventures in New York City, chipped in $5,000.

Moore, a Democrat, is well-connected with powerbrokers through his prior leadership of the Robin Hood Foundation, which funds poverty-fighting programs with donations from corporations and corporate executives. Moore also is a former investment banker, and held positions at Deutsche Bank and Citigroup.

Moore is personal friends with media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who featured Moore and his books on her programs. Winfrey spoke at Moore’s inaugural ceremony in Annapolis. She is not, however, listed as a contributor on the inaugural committee’s report.

Many companies contributed food, goods and services to the party, including CVS Pharmacy, which donated more than $9,000 worth of coronavirus tests. Other companies donated flowers, photo booths and apparel — including fashion designers Christian Siriano and Miguel Wilson. Breweries, wineries and distilleries donated alcohol, as did the MD-DE-DC Beverage Association.

Inauguration expenses included salaries to workers, airline flights, hotel rooms, consultants, event producers, security, catering and entertainers — including some who performed in the official inaugural events in Annapolis.

The single largest payment was for catering at the Baltimore Convention Center for $880,255.79. The vendor paid the most was Boston-based event production company Rosemark Production, which was paid more than $1.9 million across multiple payments.

The inaugural committee has nearly $300,000 remaining in the bank as of March 1, according to the report.

Baltimore Banner reporters Brenda Wintrode and Callan Tansill-Suddath contributed to this report.