Stop the madness: enough with the extravagant presidential centers

Enough with the lavish presidential centers.

Barack Obama revealed the latest iteration of the planned Obama Presidential Center in Chicago on Jan. 9.

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Newest design of Obama Presidential Center, Jan. 9, 2018’\\\\[[[”\’

“Michelle and I want this center to be more than just a building,” Obama said in a video statement released on Jan. 9. “We want to create an economic engine for the South Side of Chicago, a cultural attraction that showcases the South Side to the rest of the world.”

Why?

Why can’t it just be a damn presidential library?

As presented on Obama.org, the 225,000 sq. ft. the Obama Presidential Center will consist of: the Forum, a two-story public meeting space; a 235 ft. tall 165,000 sq. ft. museum tower; a library building; a plaza; an athletic center with multi-sport indoor facilities; a new outdoor running track; and a 400-450 space underground parking garage. At an event to unveil the plans, Obama said he’s also like to add a snow sledding hill, as well as play lots and paddle boats for a lagoon in new park space.

Not only will the library be one of the smaller elements of the site, it won’t actually contain any paper records. Instead, all Obama’s unclassified records will be digitized, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Obama’s actual papers will go to separate facilities maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration at locations to be determined, John Valceanu, NARA’s director of communication and marketing in Washington told the Chicago Tribune.

Opposition to the center is already surfacing. Faculty at the University of Chicago, where Obama was a lecturer at the Law School, released a letter on Jan. 8 asserting they had “concerns that the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods” and that the private Center would be taking over a major part of a historic Chicago park.

“Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important urban parks in the nation,” the letter said. “Construction of a permanent architectural monument violates Olmsted’s vision of a democratic urban park.”

The letter also bemoaned expected public expenses associated with the Center.
“ It is the taxpayers of Chicago who are going to be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, according to estimates by the Chicago Department of Transportation,” the letter said.

As of Jan. 10, 173 faculty had signed the letter.

Martin Nesbitt, chair of the Obama Foundation, estimated the total cost of the project will be $350 million. Groundbreaking is planned for late 2018 and and the grand opening in 2021.

The Obama Foundation, established in Jan. 2014, has been hard at work trying to raise money from the public to build and help maintain the Center.

During 2015-16, the Foundation raised $14,371,979 and had net assets of $10,888,797 at the end of 2016, according to the standard Form 990 non-profits are required to file annually with the IRS.

The Foundation raised its fundraising game substantially during those two years, spending just $12,000 on professional fundraising fees in 2015 and $578,579 in 2016. The Foundation’s 2017 Form 990 report is not yet available, but if the Foundation’s goal is $350 million [l;it likely has quite a way to go.

“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies. “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Writing in Salon, Clark said presidential centers tend to be “proud, defensive, and a little self-absorbed” and eventually become theme parks with declining numbers of visitors.

With that in mind, it is discouraging to see the number of extravagant presidential centers continue to grow. Do we really need another presidential center funded by influence seekers and built by a /legacy-hungry ex-president?

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more grandiose than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million in 1979; $99.8 million if you include the $79 million 68,000 sq. ft. Edward M. Kennedy Institute, complete with a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber, added in March 2015

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs cost $60 million.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR cost $165 million.

At the rate things are going, The Donald J. Trump Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Presidential Library and Emporium will be a billion dollar extravaganza.

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The Donald J. Trump Center on the Hudson?

Enough of this insanity.

It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding and more lavish presidential centers celebrating former presidents’ egos.

Stop the madness: Obama’s extravagant Presidential Center

Now we have a number. $1 billion. That’s what The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago is expected to cost.

“Eight years is only the beginning,” the Obama Foundation, which is driving creation of the Center, says on its website. “As President Obama has said, the change we seek will take longer than one presidency. The Obama Foundation is where the work we started together will continue.”

I’m reminded of an observation by Anthony Clark in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies: “We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard. As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Do we really need another extravagant, pretentious library and a recklessly large foundation funded by influence seekers and built by a legacy-hungry ex-president?

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It seems like our presidents are getting more and more concerned about their legacy and continued influence.

The New York Times reported, for example, that on election night in 1992, James L. “Skip” Rutherford, was celebrating in Little Rock, Ark., when he felt the hand of Herschel Friday, a member of the Clinton finance committee, on his back. “Hey, Skip,” Rutherford, recalled the lawyer saying. “Now we have to start thinking about that presidential library.”

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more extravagant than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $72,143,125.55.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs, the largest of all the presidential libraries, cost $60 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to a little more than $130 million now.

Obama’s $1 billion project would be twice what George W. Bush raised for his library and its programs.

It is also far more than the $165 million spent on William J. Clinton’s Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Like the Clintons, if Obama hopes to raise $1 billion, he’ll have to hit up moneyed interests, a lot of them, and do a lot of backscratching.

Obama and his people say he plans to raise most of his haul after his presidency, but he’s already on the hunt. According to a report filed with the IRS by the Barack Obama Foundation, in 2014 Obama raised $5,434,877 million from 12 donors.

The donations ranged from $100,000 to $1 million. Michael J. Sacks, a Chicago businessman, gave $666,666. Fred Eychaner, the founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., donated $1 million. Mark T. Gallogly, a private equity executive, and James H. Simons, a technology entrepreneur, each contributed $340,000.

The Foundation reported raising another $1.9 million in 2015, leaving it with a balance of $2.6 million after expenses and a massive fundraising effort needed to reach its goals. Major contributors in 2015, according to the Foundation’sForm 990 report to the IRS, included: the Gill Foundation (Tim Gill) , $347,000; Impact Assets Inc., $250,000; the Sacks Family Foundation, $333,334; Lisa Strickler and Mark Gallogly, $330,000; Marilyn and Jim Simons, $330,000; David and Beth Shaw, $250,000.

Meanwhile, like slimy remoras that attach themselves to sharks, connected Democrats are already at the money trough.

The Foundation’s 2014 expenses include $476,551 to the Smoot Tewes Group, a Washington, D.C. fundraising consultant. Julianna Smoot, served as Obama’s chief campaign fund-raiser in 2008 and 2012. Paul Tewes served as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s National Coordinated Campaign Director in 2001-02 and its Political Director in 2003-04. He also directed Obama’s victory in the 2008 Iowa Caucus campaign.

$230,436 went to SKDknickerbocker, a Washington, D.C. public relations and political consulting firm that specializes in working for Democratic Party politicians. The firm collected another $182,865 in 2015.

SKDknickerbocker is a veritable cornucopia of Democratic operatives, including: Anita Dunn, former Obama White House Communications Director; Jessica Bassett, who has done press and site advance for Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton; Bill Burton, former deputy White House press secretary for Obama and co-founder of the super PAC Priorities USA Action during Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign; and Stephen Krupin, former chief speechwriter to Secretary of State John Kerry, director of speechwriting on Obama’s re-election campaign, and chief speechwriter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

While Obama is still president, it’s clear that he, his Foundation and these firms are already hard at work pressing the 1% to donate to the Obama Foundation. And this is surely only the beginning of what will become a massive fundraising effort, likely leading to all the same conflicts and questions associated with the Clinton Foundation.

This is all getting completely out of hand. It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding presidential libraries and foundations.

The way we’re headed, presidential centers will surpass Egypt’s pyramids as monuments to the egos of leaders. Given that many of the pyramids entombed not only the deceased, but also the deceased’s servants, Obama’s current and former advisors like Valerie Jarrett, John Podesta, David Plouffe and David Axelrod may have reason to be concerned.