Protecting yourself

Donor wants $10,000 back for missing inauguration

Tyler Metzger

Blessman wants her money back

Patricia Blessman heard the booming chants of “Yes, we can!” fill the chilly Washington air during President Obama’s inauguration.

But sadly, in fact, no, she couldn’t.

Blessman and thousands of other ticketholders were denied access to the inauguration due to the uncountable mob of attendees, which estimates put between 800,000 and 3 million. But Blessman, who received a prestigious purple ticket after charging a $10,000 donation to the Presidential Inauguration Committee on her American Express card, decided being left in the cold just wasn’t good enough.

So she’s asking for a refund in the form of a $10,000 charge-back because she feels the large donation should have guaranteed her access to the festivities. According to a Washington Post article, Blessman, who made the hefty charge in January, followed American Express’s refund policy and sent a copy of her purchase documentation to the inaugural committee and the issuer asking for repayment.

Chicago-based Blessman told the Washington Post that she was treated “like nothing more than an ATM” by the inaugural committee. “Bereft, bittersweet disappointment does not even begin to describe the emotions we are left with on what should have been a joyous mountaintop experience. The irony is that we paid for this madness,” she wrote in an e-mail to the national finance chair of Obama’s presidential campaign and the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

A clinical psychologist, Blessman and her husband Stephen, an investor, have donated heavily to Obama’s campaign before. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the couple has donated $12,470 to Obama’s team since 2003. So when she charged the $10,000, she expected her two tickets would guarantee her and her husband access to the celebration, but they never made it to their seats, along with tens of thousands of other ticketholders who were trapped in what became known as the Purple Tunnel of Doom.

A refund might be on its way. American Express gave Blessman a temporary repayment in full, but she won’t know if she gets to keep it until AmEx talks with the Presidential Inauguration Committee to review all of the records of the services Blessman thinks she was declined.

It could prove tricky, however, because the committee officially shut down after the ceremony and refuses to answer to any complaints, not even ones from American Express. The decision to grant the charge-back rests solely with the issuer. Additionally, the committee didn’t have the authority or responsibility for guaranteeing anyone entrance to the swearing-in event at the Capitol.

Josh Earnest, who worked for the Presidential Inauguration Committee but is now working in the White House press office, stated last month that they are initiating a “congressional inquiry into the logistical problems that plagued the Capitol Hill ceremony.” He also stated that they are “sympathetic to the disappointment of those who had tickets to the swearing-in but were not admitted.”

Basically: There’s nothing we can do about it, but thanks for the money. Just another reason why you should put huge charges on your card — so you can charge them back in case something goes wrong, such as being trapped in a Purple Tunnel of Doom.

Note: This article is included in the 198th edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by Wide Open Wallet. This week’s carnival sprinkles world records between tons of personal finance blog posts.

See related: Obama will usher in credit card reform, Prank uses Obama in attempt to obtain Centurion bling

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