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Fundraising Ability Key To Winning Obama Library

By Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — While Chicago has been engaged in a heated debate over the use of public parks for President Barack Obama’s library, his selection of a host university may have more to do with which institution can offer the most financial support than which offers the best piece of land.

Obama’s library and museum will be a monument to his eight years in office and the base from which he will launch future initiatives. The university that he partners with must have a solid track record of fundraising and be committed to working with his foundation to raise millions of dollars — not just to build the library but to help fund its long-term programs.

With past presidential libraries, it has been a high-stakes game. Take, for example, the George W. Bush library.

When Bush began the push to build his library in 2004, Texas competitors faced off in a fierce bidding war. The city of Irving, a suburb of Dallas, pledged $50 million if he chose the University of Dallas. Baylor University in Waco offered more than $100 million. And a West Texas coalition of local officials and other supporters topped that with a $500 million pledge if he built it at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

And those were the losers. The library went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, a private institution with a $1 billion endowment and where first lady Laura Bush earned her bachelor’s degree. SMU officials have never disclosed the details of their bid, but officials acknowledge that the university’s capacity for fundraising was a strong asset.

“Whenever any entity proposes to be the site for a presidential library, they have to demonstrate that they can raise sufficient funds to build it,” said David Jones, a Houston-based presidential library consultant. “Private universities typically have more history and success in fundraising than do public universities. If the University of Chicago has more than 100 years of fundraising history, it’s not a big stretch for them to say, ‘We can raise this money.'”

This could place the public University of Illinois at Chicago at a disadvantage compared with private institutions such as the University of Chicago and Columbia University in New York, whose billion-dollar endowments are proof of their fundraising prowess.

The University of Hawaii is also a public school, but its bid was set up in a way that relieves the university’s financial pressure. Though the university is leading the bid, it is a joint partnership among the city of Honolulu, the state of Hawaii and local business and civic leaders combined under a nonprofit called Hawaii Presidential Center.

For months, the four universities have been engaged in behind-the-scenes discussions with the Barack Obama Foundation, which is led by Obama’s close friend Martin Nesbitt. He has been charged with overseeing the site selection process and raising money to build the facility. By the time the foundation announces a winner next month, officials likely will know exactly how much fundraising assistance they can expect from the winning university.

Except for UIC’s, the bids have been kept secret, in part because of the competitive nature of the offerings but also because the institutions were required to provide delicate financial information. The foundation required them to include details of the capital commitments they would make to the development and construction of the library, as well as funds available to support its annual operations.

“What the foundation looks for is not just ‘will you give us a good site’, but ‘what kind of support will you give us ongoing?’ That means program support and financial support,” said Anthony Clark, author of The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity & Enshrine Their Legacies. “What kind of symposia will you offer? What kind of financial support will you provide for exhibits?”

While the U. of C. says it has not offered a cash donation, it is unclear whether it or Columbia has committed to raising a specific dollar amount.

That kind of commitment is impossible at UIC, whose $265 million endowment pales in comparison to the U. of C.’s $7.5 billion endowment. In addition, Gov. Bruce Rauner has called for a 31.5 percent budget cut across the University of Illinois system in 2016, amounting to about a $60 million loss to UIC.

UIC librarian Mary Case, who heads the university’s bid, acknowledged that there are limitations. The university would be willing to establish a tax-exempt group that would raise funds to support the institute and academic programs, she said, but no public funds could be spent on the project.

“It will depend on what the president and first lady are trying to achieve and what kind of statement they want to make,” Case said. “We feel like we offer them a very different choice in terms of institution and community that tries to live out the mission and values of what we feel are his goals and policies.

“Will it come down to money or values? We don’t know. It’s something we have to contend with,” she said.

With Honolulu’s distance from the mainland being a serious drawback for landing the library and museum, the university there has made it clear it would accept a consolation prize, such as a presidential center that would complement a library and museum built elsewhere.

After the site selection, the main job of the Obama foundation will be fundraising and developing programming. The foundation already has established a fundraising arm, collecting between $2.9 million and $6.2 million in its first year. Still, the university that is selected as the host is also expected to lend support, from academic expertise to fundraising to sharing its donor list.

With a price tag estimated at up to $500 million, library experts said, Obama’s library is on track to become the costliest so far.

That, in part, is because a new law signed by Bush requires libraries built after his to include an endowment equal to 60 percent of the construction cost — 20 percent more than he and President Bill Clinton were required to provide. The money is used by the National Archives and Records Administration, the federal agency that oversees presidential libraries, to offset the costs of maintaining them.

Obama set fundraising records in his two campaigns for the White House, garnering nearly $750 million in 2008 and $722 million in 2012. According to experts, his ability to raise that kind of money for his library will depend on how willing he is to get out there and ask for it.

Unlike previous presidents, Obama has said he and the first lady will not personally raise funds for his library until he leaves office in early 2017, a decision that library experts said places additional pressure on the foundation — and the host institution — to raise money.

“For a lot of (the presidents), it’s a necessity. At this point, they can’t expect someone to raise it for them,” said presidential library historian Benjamin Hufbauer, author of Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory. “They might not like it, but they grit their teeth and do it.”

SMU officials said they never promised a specific dollar amount, but after they were awarded the site, SMU President Gerald Turner joined the foundation’s fundraising coordinating committee, and the university and the foundation collaborated on reaching out to donors.

As a result, Bush raised an unprecedented $500 million before his library opened in 2013, double the $250 million it cost to build it. Clinton had raised only a portion of the cost of his $165 million library by the time it opened in 2004 in Little Rock, Ark.

“We knew that SMU has a strong tradition of support from our constituents and a strong record of fundraising campaigns, and we clearly felt that was an asset,” said Brad Cheves, who coordinated SMU’s bid. “We were already in a billion-dollar campaign separate from the Bush center. We said we felt like this would create energy around our supporters who would want to participate in the library effort.”

Meanwhile, Baylor conducted an unrelenting six-year campaign for the Bush library. In addition to the $114 million fundraising pledge, the Waco university, 20 miles from the Bush family ranch in Crawford, purchased a 150-acre site along the Brazos River to offer for the library. Baylor envisioned a complex that would have included a little league stadium designed for a president who loves baseball, plus a marina, an amphitheater and a lagoon for fishing.

Baylor also hired a fundraising consultant who encouraged the university to reach out to alumni before the finalists were named. It even landed commitments from George and Laura Bush’s friends in the Waco area.

“We left no stone unturned,” said Tommye Lou Davis, the administrator who headed Baylor’s library bid. “Our consultants felt like — and rightfully so — that we needed to prove we had lots of support, not just for building but for maintaining the continuous operation of the library. The fundraising component would never really go away, and we felt strongly that we needed to show we could do it.”

In the end, it came down to Baylor and SMU. That expensive chunk of land on the Brazos River? It’s now the home of Baylor’s new football stadium.

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Land to the north of the South Shore Cultural Center, a landmarked building at 70th Street at the lakefront, is one of the University of Chicago’s three proposed locations for the Obama presidential library. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

First Ladies’ Key Role In Presidential Libraries

By Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — In just over a century and a half, the concept of a presidential library has evolved from a small room in a home where first lady Sarah Polk kept her late husband’s letters and mementos into multimillion-dollar complexes that house thousands of official records from the presidents’ years in office.

But presidential libraries are no longer just a means of preserving the legacy of the men who have occupied the Oval Office. Modern-day libraries are designed to highlight the partnership between the president and first lady. And increasingly, it is the first lady who leads the charge in making sure her husband’s vision for his library comes to fruition.

“There has been a trend away from the traditional museum approach, in which the first lady is treated in a separate, boxy space filled with dresses and perhaps some images from her travels and state dinners,” said Richard Norton Smith, a presidential scholar who has served as director of several presidential libraries. “As an alternative, her story is being more fully integrated with that of her spouse — just like in real life.”

In that way, Smith said, their partnership is conveyed more honestly, and the first lady herself is acknowledged for substantive contributions beyond the narrow range traditionally associated with the role.

Part of the reason for that, according to Smith and others, is that the first ladies have become more involved in the development of presidential libraries and museums. In doing so, Smith said, the first lady tends to humanize history.

“It’s not just the causes they espouse but the character they display that makes first ladies connect with the American people, earning them a historical place quite apart from whatever their spouse may or may not achieve,” Smith said. “We buy their books and speculate about their influence because we see them as more authentic or at least less imprisoned in the political bubble.”

Like first ladies before her, Michelle Obama will play an integral role in choosing where the library will go, raising private funds to build it, and deciding what it will look like after it is completed. It will be up to her to decide how involved she wants to be in the day-to-day planning and how much of a footprint she leaves on the library.

A spokeswoman for the Obama foundation said Michelle Obama’s public service “will be prominently featured in the library.”

The first lady’s involvement in presidential libraries varies from president to president, just as the extent and manner in which she is represented differs from one library to the next.

For example, close observers of the development of the Clinton library and museum said President Bill Clinton took a hands-on approach in overseeing it, leaving little for Hillary Rodham Clinton to do. But with her then-new job as a U.S. senator and her eye on her own future presidential bid, there wasn’t much time to devote to a presidential library even if her husband had wanted her to.

The first lady, however, is featured in at least two permanent exhibits in the Little Rock, Arkansas, library. An exhibit called “Putting People First” highlights her role spearheading the Clinton administration’s unsuccessful effort to reform health care. Another exhibit focusing on the president’s education initiatives includes awards given to the first lady.

First lady Laura Bush was a driving force behind President George W. Bush’s library, doing everything from chairing the design committee to developing the exhibit while he focused on the center’s policy institute. She was instrumental in selecting Southern Methodist University in Dallas for the site. She and the president both have offices at the center and are there on a regular basis, library officials said.

Being a former librarian with a master’s degree in library science, Laura Bush stepped naturally into the leadership role, according to Sally McDonough, formerly her press secretary at the White House and currently vice president of external affairs at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. As first lady, Laura Bush once invited the directors of the various presidential libraries to Camp David to brainstorm ideas.

“The first lady is a strategic partner to the president, not only in helping him get into office but in managing their time together in Washington. She has a unique perspective and a filter that she brings to the library,” McDonough said. “It’s hard to look at the presidential center and not think of the touches she was involved in, from the location on campus to the landscape surrounding it. It’s the first library in the 21st century where technology is an important part of the design.”

When things needed tweaking, Laura Bush was the one to do it. For example, she found it jarring to leave the No Child Left Behind section and go straight into an exhibit focusing on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, especially for children. So she added a reading nook stocked with some of her favorite books so the children could stay behind and read as their parents went through.

Presidential libraries have come a long way since 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt donated his personal and presidential papers to the federal government and formed a nonprofit corporation to raise money to build a place to house them on his estate at Hyde Park. It was not until 1955 that Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act, establishing a system of privately built libraries that are later handed over to the federal government to manage and maintain.

According to Jeremy Mayer, an associate political science professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, the role of first ladies in the presidential library system reflects their growing policy role, but it also is part of a natural evolution.

“Given the life span of women versus men, women are typically outliving the presidents,” Mayer said. “And in most cases, no one is more interested in the president’s legacy than his wife.”

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

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Taxes Go To Operation Of Presidential Libraries

By Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — In the nearly 60 years since the federal government became the official caretaker of former U.S. presidents’ historical documents, presidential libraries have engaged in a delicate dance to keep the private foundations that build them and the taxpayers who keep them running from stepping on each other’s toes.

While presidential libraries are designed and built almost entirely with private donations, they are then handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration to oversee.

With the site selection process underway for President Barack Obama’s library and museum, public attention has returned to the amount of federal money it takes to operate and maintain these facilities.

Last year, it cost taxpayers nearly $68 million — the equivalent of about 21 cents per U.S. resident.

That’s a drop in the bucket in the federal government’s $3.5 trillion budget. But the notion that taxpayers are footing the bill to run 13 presidential libraries, with another on the way, doesn’t sit well with everyone — including those who view them as “museums of spin” to shape public opinion.

While the major responsibility of the National Archives is to preserve and make accessible the presidents’ papers, records, and other historical materials, the libraries also are considered to be repositories of history for the public. But it isn’t always clear where the government’s work begins and where that of the foundation — the nonprofit group whose mission is to ensure that the president’s vision for his library is carried out — ends.

The relationship varies from library to library. In most cases, the foundation continues to occupy offices and other space in the library even after the building is deeded to the National Archives. While the federal government covers most staffing, maintenance, and operational costs, foundations often pay for programs and exhibits. The government pays for building repairs, but major exhibit renovations generally are handled by foundations.

It is a complex relationship that makes some taxpayers uncomfortable.

The George W. Bush Foundation, which operates the George W. Bush Institute, occupies more than half of the 208,000-square-foot Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The foundation also operates the gift shop, cafeteria, and auditorium. In addition to the museum and library archives, the Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas also houses the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton School of Public Service, an extension of the University of Arkansas.

“The public is sometimes confused by this private-public partnership,” said Benjamin Hufbauer, a presidential library scholar and associate professor at the University of Louisville. “They are basically museums of spin established by the presidents … but they want the federal government to run them and give them legitimacy.”

But Susan Donius, director of the National Archives’ Office of Presidential Libraries in Washington, said presidential libraries are important to democracy.

“Ultimately, by having presidential libraries located around the country, we give American people firsthand access to democracy,” Donius said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune earlier this year. “We have a curatorial staff that oversees the exhibits, but the story is the president’s to tell. It emphasizes the points he wants to make about his four or eight years in office.”

The problem, according to Hufbauer and other library experts, is that the libraries and museums rarely fully acknowledge mistakes or problems that occurred in the president’s administration. And if they do, they have a way of making the missteps seem like they weren’t so bad.

At former President George W. Bush’s library dedication last year, former President Bill Clinton joked that the new building is the “latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history.”

Every president who has a library, from Herbert Hoover to, soon, Obama, has faced controversies while in the White House.

While the archival function is crucial to the libraries, the National Archives has been so short-staffed that a large backlog of presidential items waits to be archived. According to a 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service, it would take the National Archives 100 years to catch up. Officials said that backlog has been reduced significantly but that they have not kept pace with the influx of new documents.

“Meanwhile, you’ve got a museum of spin telling lies about the president, and it’ll take 100 years for the archives to reveal the truth,” said Hufbauer, author of the book “Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory.”

“If they want to do a museum showing how wonderful they were, they should do that on their own dime. Now, it’s kind of like welfare for presidents,” he said.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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