Obama Fundraising Goal: $225,000-Per-Day for Presidential Library
About $225,000 dollars a day. That's a ballpark estimate for how much President Barack Obama and his supporters need to raise for his presidential library, assuming $500 million in expenses and a desire to pay the tab within four years of leaving office.
With his last midterm election behind him, Obama will start to focus more on the project next year, as he begins to decide how he wants his legacy showcased. The president, first lady and current White House staff won't be actively fundraising until he leaves office, although others will be starting that work.
"It's a huge fundraising campaign," said Benjamin Hufbauer, a University of Louisville professor and author on presidential libraries. "President Clinton and the second President Bush both did pretty extensive fundraising in their last year in office and that really gave them a head start."
An important marker for the Obama project arrives Thursday with the deadline for the four site finalists to submit formal proposals that include details on proposed management, site development, partnerships, potential for academic collaboration, marketing and financial commitments.
The submissions, which won't initially be made public by the foundation overseeing the project, will come from the University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University and the University of Hawaii. Obama grew up in Honolulu, graduated from Columbia in New York and spent most of his career in Chicago, so all three cities lay claim to his biography and are seeking an institution that could generate millions in tourism dollars.
The Barack Obama Foundation, created in January to start the fundraising and logistical work, has set a goal of picking a site in early 2015. The effort is being led by Marty Nesbitt, a longtime Obama friend from Chicago.
Presidents typically try to collect as much money as possible in the year immediately after leaving the White House because fundraising can become more challenging as time passes and they become less relevant and some major donors pass away. The fundraising that will take place ahead of Obama's exit from office will be focused on what's needed for the foundation's operations and planning.
"Clearly, two-term presidents have a significant advantage over one-term presidents because you have time to plan in the latter half of your second term, rather than dealing with a re-election campaign and a defeat and having to go straight into library planning," said James "Skip" Rutherford, who supervised the development and construction of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.
More than $500 million in private money was raised for the most recently built presidential shrine, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. That institution opened in 2013 at Southern Methodist University near Dallas, more than four years after the 43rd president left office. In Bush's case, roughly half of the fundraising went to construction for what is the largest presidential library complex, while the other half went to programming and maintenance endowments and other costs.
An economic impact analysis released earlier this year that was commission by the University of Chicago estimated that construction alone would amount to $380 million, based on costs of other presidential libraries and anticipated features of an Obama library.
Rutherford said there are five major areas for fundraising: friends and supporters, individuals and corporations that typically back historical projects, hometown businesses and foundations that view the libraries as a matter of economic development and pride, small donors, and foreign governments and international donors.
As one of the nation's youngest presidents, Obama will still theoretically have many years ahead of him to try to further shape his place in history. That could make the library and its outreach role even more important to him.
"There will be a lot of room on an international and national stage for President Obama," Rutherford said. "Some of the more productive days for presidential Obama are yet to be, so the library has to be as much about the future as it is about the past."
Although presidential libraries have typically been built with private dollars, Obama's effort still has a chance of winning some public money, if ends up being built in Chicago, the likely front-runner.
A plan to offer $100 million in tax dollars to lure the library to Illinois was shelved earlier this year, although still could be brought back to life. The idea is backed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who also doubles as the state Democratic Party's chairman, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first White House chief of staff.
Presidential libraries have typically been built with private funds before being turned over to the National Archives for operation. Their cost has grown over the years, reflecting inflation and the increasing grandeur of their designs.
The U of C study projected Obama's library could draw as many as 800,000 visitors a year, easily more than the roughly 425,000 who tour the most-visited presidential library, Ronald Reagan's. That estimate was based on it being located in an urban setting with nearby public transportation such as Chicago’s South Side. The annual economic impact to the City of Chicago would be $220 million, due primarily to an increase in city visitors, the report said. It would create an estimated 1,900 permanent new jobs, increasing annual local earnings by $56 million.
A reliance on private money to build the libraries and the lack of disclosure has, over the years, troubled advocates for greater government transparency. "This is completely unregulated," Hufbauer said. "They can take any amount of money from any source."
The Obama foundation has established some self-imposed limits. It will not accept donations from groups other than 501(c)(3) non-profits and will also not take support from foreign nationals, currently registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents. It plans to disclose all donors and donations over $200 on a quarterly basis. So far, the Obama foundation has disclosed the names of a small number of contributors who have donated more than $100,000.
Rutherford said that if Obama is anything like Bill Clinton he will want to be involved with virtually every aspect of the library's construction, right down to picking the color of tiles and carpeting.
"He was very much involved from the location to the site to the materials use to the solar panels," he said, adding that Clinton wanted to White House replications to be identical so that children who might never make it to the White House could feel like they had really been there.
On the night before the library opened in November 2004, Rutherford said he was doing a walk-through with the former president, who suddenly stopped to note that a map showing the states he'd carried in the 1992 election had one state wrong.
"As we walked by, he said, 'I carried Montana,'" Rutherford said. "Montana went from red to blue overnight."