House Moves to Disclose Presidential Library Funding

Would require quarterly disclosure of donations of $200 or more

Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., says he was motivated after learning foreign governments contributed to Bill Clinton's presidential library. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House on Wednesday quickly passed a bill that would give the public a better view of donations going to presidential libraries and may offer a temporary window into President Barack Obama’s fundraising.

The bipartisan measure championed by Tennessee Republican Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. and considered under suspension of the rules would provide a disclosure system for an otherwise opaque process. Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland is also a sponsor.

“Presidential library fundraising organizations are formed while a president is in office and collect donations from individuals, corporations and foreign governments with no limit on the contribution amount,” Duncan said of his measure last year. “When there is no requirement for disclosing the donor or the amounts being donated, there is great potential for abuse.”

The House approved a nearly identical measure last year, but the Senate did not take it up. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he did not have guidance on whether the chamber planned to take up the bill this year.

Duncan said his motivation for the bill came after learning foreign governments made contributions to former President Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas. Duncan said he first introduced similar legislation in 1999 after news reports of donations from Middle Eastern governments, including Saudi Arabia, to the future Clinton library.

The measure would require quarterly disclosure of donations to presidential libraries totaling $200 or more. Obama’s library foundation voluntarily lists donors, but not specific amounts. The foundation did not respond to an email seeking comment about how the measure would affect its disclosures.

The Obama library in Chicago is expected to cost at least $500 million and open in 2021, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Top donors to Obama’s library include Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner and the family foundation of “Star Wars” creator George Lucas. Both are listed on the Obama Foundation’s website as donating between $500,000 and $1 million. No donations are listed from foreign governments. Obama’s library effort also pledges that while he is still in office, it won’t take donations from foreign national or lobbyists.

“Presidents can raise funds for his or her library while still in office, and that provides an opportunity for corporations or wealthy individuals to cozy up — it’s an avenue for potential influence peddling,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a liberal watchdog group. “It should be fully disclosed.”

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