Obama Foundation million-dollar donors jump; founders of Twitter, LinkedIn give

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Obama Center museum director Louise Bernard, (from left) executive director Robbin Cohen, CEO David Simas and Vice President of Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board and unveiled the model for the center in January. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Jumbo-dollar Obama Foundation fundraising jumped in the last quarter of 2017, according to a list of donors posted Tuesday, with the founders of Twitter and LinkedIn among those now giving or pledging more than $1 million — as well as entertainer Shonda Rhimes, who grew up in Chicago’s south suburbs.

Another $1 million-plus giver in the last three months of 2017 is Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynne.

In November, former first lady Michelle showed her appreciation: She was the keynote speaker for a convention in San Francisco put on by Salesforce, where Benioff led her in a “fireside chat” conversation, according to a report on the KGO website. It’s not known whether Mrs. Obama was paid for the speech or she spoke to Benioff’s group without charging a fee.

The stepped up fundraising comes as former President Barack Obama is spending more to program and construct his Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park with the tab to build the complex between $300 million and $350 million.

The new list of $1 million-plus donors has 46 individuals or foundations giving between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31. That compares with 13 individuals or foundations on the donor list released reflecting contributions through the third quarter last year.

The foundation declines to list the specific amounts of donations each quarter, though it does offer details in its annual IRS filing out each May.

That’s why it is not possible to say how much was raised each quarter except for general ranges. The foundation also obscures the page listing donors on its website. The list can be found at obama.org/contributors.

The foundation also declines in its quarterly voluntary disclosures to list more than a name, which is a lower level of transparency than requested from the Federal Election Commission, where all donors must list an address and employer.

Obama and his fundraising team used the Obama Foundation summit last year in Chicago as a showcase to pitch the work of the foundation to high-end donors. The Obama Foundation seems to have more success so far in winning contributions from wealthy individuals and their foundations than with securing funding pledges from corporate Chicago or other big national companies.

Donors already in the Obama Foundation pipeline giving more include Chicago’s Crown family, which had given between $250,000 and $500,000 and is now in the million-dollar plus donor range. Chicago media executive Fred Eychaner, one of the nation’s biggest Democratic donors, who previously had given between $750,001 to $1 million, now is listed as giving more than $1 million. Ariel Investment’s John Rogers, on the Obama Foundation board went from the $500,001 to $750,000 range to more than one million dollars.

Twitter founder Evan Williams and his wife, Sara Morishige, also were earlier big donors who upped their contribution.

LinkedIn founder Reid Wilson is listed as giving more than $1 million; the donation came through his Aphorism Foundation.

Among the new million-dollar donors: Rhimes, who donated through her Rhimes Family Foundation; The Ford Foundation; the Blum-Kovler Foundation/Peter and Judy Kovler; and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

The Blum-Kovler Foundation is a major philanthropic donor in Chicago, in Washington, D.C., and other places around the nation. The Los Angeles-based Eli Broad, a billionaire philanthropist, has been active in the arts and Democratic politics.

Also, the Linda and Richard Price Family Fund. Richard Price is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Mesirow Financial. Another new million-dollar-plus donor is former Obama administration official Jeffrey Zients and his wife Mary and Hollywood producer Phil Rosenthal, the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond” through his Rosenthal Family Foundation.

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