(CBS News) Taxpayers pick up the tab for the inaugural swearing-in, security and the parade.
But it's private donors who pay for all those swank inaugural balls and celebrations.
This time around, it's estimated $40 million will be raised for the lavish parties that draw some of the biggest money players in politics.
And watchdog Bill Allison, of the Sunlight Foundation, said there's a reason they're willing to drop so much cash on inaugural events.
"There's no better way to sidle up to somebody and exchange business cards at an inaugural event and say, 'We really need some help with this tax break or this regulatory matter,'" he said. "And that kind of access gets you, you know, the ear of people who can make decisions that can help you out."
Inaugural festivities have come a long way since James Madison charged admission to the ball at the door in 1809. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter raised $3-4 million. Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, and Bill Clinton raised $16 to $30 million. Then, in 2009, President Obama's inaugural committee shattered all records, with $53 million donated by private citizens.
This time, Mr. Obama's inaugural committee did an about-face from 2009 and decided to accept corporate money, and lift all limits on how much someone can donate.
Big donors can buy package deals named after Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, with perks like tickets for "reserved bleacher seats to the Inaugural parade," and a "VIP reception" at the Candle Light Celebration.
Stephen Kerrigan, who heads up the inaugural committee, said the group is very comfortable with the way they are raising money.
"We know that we're breaking ground with limitations against lobbyists and PAC money," he said, "and that we are the most transparent inaugural that we've ever had."
While inaugural organizers say they are fully transparent -- and even posting the names of donors -- watchdogs argue that ordinary people don't get to rub shoulders with policymakers and the president the way big individual and corporate donors can.
To watch Sharyl Attkisson's report, click on the video player above.