6 things we still don’t know about the Obama Foundation – Consumer News

on Jun1

31 May 2017 | 6:06 pm

The Obama Foundation has been diligently issuing press releases as it staffs up the Obama Presidential Center. Today it announced the appointment of Louise Bernard as director of the museum at the center.

On other matters, the foundation hasn’t been quite so forthcoming.

We know that the center will be in Jackson Park. We’ve seen an initial design scheme by New York architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams. Visitors to the foundation’s website can find its 990 tax filing for 2016 and a 154-page honor roll of donors.

What still isn’t clear: how much the foundation needs to raise for the center, and where and how that money will be raised. In response to emailed questions from Crain’s, the Obama Foundation’s Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm sent a block of quotations that satisfied some but not all of our curiosity. (And, yes, we wondered why the Chicago-based foundation looked to D.C. for PR support.) Here goes:

Q: Where and from whom will funding come? Is this a local endeavor? National? International? Will the bulk of funding come from individuals, corporations, foundations or all three?

Response: “The Obama Foundation, the nonprofit charged with developing the Obama Presidential Center, welcomes donations to support its operations and programs. The construction and operations of the Obama Presidential Center will be funded entirely by private donations.”

Q: Not everyone loves the center’s location in Jackson Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. In January of 2015, Landmarks Illinois issued a resolution urging the Obamas to look for an alternative site. How will the foundation address those concerns?

Response: “Chicago has a long tradition of building museums in its parks—something that makes both the parks and the museums so beloved and used by visitors from here and around the world. The DuSable, Field Museum, Nature Museum, and MSI are all institutions that enhance the park experience. The OPC seeks to do exactly the same.”

Now for the questions that remain unanswered:

Q: Exactly how much does the foundation need to raise? Based on costs for other presidential libraries, conventional-wisdom estimates put the amount north of $500 million; some estimates are as high as $1.5 billion.

Q: Who will chase the big money? It takes time and effort to secure eight- and nine-figure donations. Jordan Kaplan, former Democratic National Committee finance director, is the foundation’s director of development. John Rogers Jr., chairman, CEO and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, and Michael Sacks, GCM Grosvenor chairman and CEO, are among the big-money people on the foundation’s board.

Q: Who will pay for any infrastructure costs? When he was in town May 3 to unveil renderings for the presidential center, former President Barack Obama said he’d like to close South Cornell Avenue, which runs through the western edge of Jackson Park. Closing a major thoroughfare will incur costs. Will the foundation cover them? Will the city?

Crain’s also asked why Obama doesn’t have a title at the foundation. “It is not out of the norm for former presidents not to occupy these roles for their foundation; Presidents Bush—41 and 43—and President Carter also do not,” the PR firm responded.

Was it naive to hope for more transparency from the foundation, not only because of Obama’s Chicago roots and what appears to be his intense personal interest in this project, but because of the spotlight on the Clinton Foundation and Donald J. Trump Foundation during the last election? Here’s hoping that as the foundation raises money, it sheds some opacity, too.



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