Obama foundation curtails fundraising in 2015

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Barack Obama Foundation chairman Martin Nesbitt speaks during a news conference on May 12, 2015, when it was announced that the Barack Obama Presidential Center will be built in Chicago. | Paul Beaty/AP

WASHINGTON — After raising $5.4 million in 2014, the Chicago-based Barack Obama foundation is scaling back its fundraising this year and dropping the use of an outside fundraising firm, the Sun-Times has learned.

Though hundreds of millions of dollars will eventually have to be raised, “given its finite fundraising needs at present, the Foundation doesn’t need a sophisticated level of fundraising infrastructure,” a spokesman told the Sun-Times. “Therefore, the foundation decided to fundraise internally for 2015.”

In its first year, the foundation spent $1.9 million — including $476,551 to a fundraising firm — and raised $5.4 million, according to a report the nonprofit, tax-exempt foundation filed with the IRS and released on Monday.

The first look at the foundation financials comes almost a week after the announcement that the Obama Presidential Center — a library and museum — will be located in Chicago, with a decision to come later on whether the site will be Jackson Park or Washington Park.

The foundation was launched in January 2014 and the IRS granted it 501(c)(3) status on July 21, 2014, a foundation spokesman said. The IRS 990 filing covers the period through Dec. 31. Some highlights from the filing:

• The top expense was $615,523 to Jones, Lang, LaSalle Midwest, 300 S. Riverside Dr., the real estate consultants the foundation used for the site-selection process. Foundation chair Marty Nesbitt has been a member of the Jones board since 2011.

The next big cost was $476,551 to Smoot Tewes Group, the Washington firm of longtime Obama fundraiser Julianna Smoot. Smoot previously served on the foundation board.

Other top fees were $230,436 to SKDKnickerbocker, the Washington company handling communication and marketing, and $107,842 to Katten, Muchin, Rosenman, 525 W. Monroe, for legal services.

• While the foundation has been disclosing the names of donors — and the broad ranges of the contributions — the 990 provides the specific amounts. I reported in January that the Joyce Foundation, headquartered in Chicago, pledged $1 million over a three-year span.

The very top individual 2014 donors are from Chicago: $1 million from business executive Fred Eychaner, one of the nation’s major Democratic donors, and $666,666 from Cari and Michael Sacks.

Michael Sacks is the CEO of Chicago-based Grosvenor Capital Management. He also is vice chairman of the World Business Chicago board and a board member at Wrapports, the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times.

• Nesbitt is the chief of Vistria, an investment firm he founded, located at 300 E. Randolph. The foundation is based in his firm, with the space Nesbitt donated valued at an estimated $47,396, according to the IRS report. Nesbitt, the 3 other board members and Robbin Cohen, the treasurer, took no salary in 2014.

• With the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation funding in the news, this is worth noting: The Obama foundation takes no money from foreign nationals, currently registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents.

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