WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama’s foundation has jumped into a new stage of mega fundraising, revealing Friday its first corporate donations: at least $1 million from Microsoft and Exelon, headquartered in Chicago’s Loop.
The Obama Foundation, freed from constraints self-imposed when Obama was in office, is embracing a fundraising model used by major museums and cultural institutions by raising jumbo contributions from corporations.
Whether these donations are connected to any corporate signage, naming rights, sponsorship of forums, programs or other promises of visibility at the planned Obama Center on the South Side is not yet known.
Regarding the Exelon donation: Top executives of the energy company have backed Obama since he launched his political career as a state senator from Hyde Park. Exelon’s senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer, William A. Von Hoene, Jr. is a South Sider with longtime ties to Obama.
The Obama Foundation tapped Von Hoene to be co-chair of the Obama Foundation Inclusion Council, created in October, 2016 to deal with diversity issues in the development of the Obama Center.
An Obama Foundation Board member, John W. Rogers Jr., a longtime friend of Obama and former first lady Michelle, is also an Exelon director.
Other notable new donors to the Obama Foundation:
*For the first time Chicago’s wealthy Crown family contributed – somewhere between $250,001 to $500,000, although it is likely on the higher end.
The money comes from business tycoon Lester Crown and Jim Crown, who was Illinois Finance co-chair in Obama’s 2008 campaign. The civic minded Crowns’ are likely to dig much deeper as time goes by. The significance here is they’ve started to open their substantial wallet.
The exact amount of donations are disclosed by the Foundation once a year, in May. Each quarter the foundation voluntarily releases donations, but only in very general ranges in order to obfuscate the amount and confuse readers.
I’ve been nagging Obama Foundation Chair Marty Nesbitt about this obfuscation for years; however, one can only imagine how President Donald Trump will handle disclosure and fundraising when it comes time for him to build his presidential library and museum.
*The Rosenthal Family Foundation gave somewhere between $250,0001 and $500,000. Hollywood producer Phil Rosenthal and his wife Monica were guests at the Aug. 2, 2016 State Dinner at the White House to honor the Prime Minister of Singapore.
*Star Wars Director J.J. Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, donated between $100,001 to $250,000 through their family foundation.
Asked if there are any self-imposed restrictions on donor money, an Obama Foundation official told the Chicago Sun-Times, “While President Obama was still in office, the Obama Foundation applied self-imposed restrictions on its fundraising activity. Now that the President is no longer in office, those restrictions no longer apply, but the Obama Foundation will continue to vet and publicly disclose all large contributions.”
Big corporate donations are the backbone funders of cultural institutions around the nation. In order to keep givers engaged, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created a “council,” with members being significant individual and corporate donors, including the Chicago based Boeing.
Former President Bill Clinton has a New York-based foundation with an international network of donors — some of whom became controversial during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — as well as contributors to the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Ark.
The Obama Foundation has already built a significant digital presence, done events in Chicago and abroad, and is planning more, not waiting for the construction of the Obama Center, the library, museum, event and office space in Jackson Park.
Early phase foundation spending is estimated at $675 million dollars, according to an economic study done for the foundation, covering start-up costs, construction, programming, staff and other operating expenses from 2015 to 2021.
As programming develops, the foundation can find underwriting opportunities that fit with the interests of a potential donor.
On July 1, in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he spent part of his youth, Obama hosted a roundtable with several young Indonesians about how the Obama Foundation “can help empower, connect, and train the next generation of leaders – in Indonesia and around the world.”