Obama library bid gets lobbyist donors


President Barack Obama has yet to pick a site for his presidential library, but Hawaii's bid for it got a $5,000 donation from the global law and lobbying firm Skadden Arps.

The disclosure was made last week, when lobbyists reported their 2013 contributions to candidates and for presidential libraries and other causes. The donation came in January when Skadden Arps co-sponsored the Hawaii Presidential Center Inaugural Gala in Washington during the weekend of Obama's second inauguration. 

While the money did not go to the president or any committees associated with him, it's an early indication of the big fundraising push to come.

The state of Hawaii is eyeing Kaka'ako Waterfront Park for the library

Diane Darvey, a lobbyist with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores who gave $400 was the only other lobbyist to report a donation to the Aloha State's bid to become the site for Obama's presidential archives and museum. But at least one other lobbying and law firm was a $5,000 sponsor of the Hawaii Presidential Inaugural Gala, according to the invitation: D.C.-based Van Ness Feldman, which made about $3 million lobbying last year. The firm's clients include the Warren Buffet-owned Berkshire Hathaway and electric utility American Electric Power. 

Other sponsors of the gala, according to the invitation, were Hawaii Electric Industries; Charlotte, N.C. law firm Collett & Associates; the Hawaii-based American Savings Bank; and the Punahou School, an elite elementary and high school that Obama attended.

Skadden Arps is not registered to lobby for many clients but does represent General Motors, the Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Steel and the global shopping mall developer Westfield Corp. Until last year, it also even hired lobbyists for its own cause: To push Congress and the Obama administration on international, corporate and financial services tax issues, according to reports.

Both Skadden Arps and Van Ness Feldman tend to give more to Democrats than Republicans, according to Influence Explorer. Obama is the all-time leading recipient of Skadden contributions, at more than $850,000, while Van Ness has sent about $37,000 to the president's campaign. This money comes from the companies' PACs and their employees and relatives. 

The bid to win Obama's library for the state where he was born is being organized by the University of Hawaii and led by professors. It also has the help of Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who was friendly with the president's parents, and other state politicos. University of Hawaii officials, including the coodinator, professor Robert Perkinson, did not respond to an interview request.

The disclosure of contributions to the Hawaii group, which may have not even have been legally required, is a sneak preview of the effort to fund the library foundation itself. Obama may begin fundraising for the library, which would certainly also include a museum and other attractions, as early as next year, according to Vanderbilt University historian Thomas A. Schwartz. If the experience of his immediate past predecessor, George W. Bush, is any indication, the total Obama will need to raise could be north of $500 million. Congress requires presidents to establish library endowments so that the taxpayers don't get saddled with the cost of maintaining their libraries.

According to guidance issued by the House Clerk, which oversees lobbyist contribution disclosure, lobbyists must report every donation over $200 to a president's library foundation. Those are the only donors that must be publicly reported. The presidential library is not obligated to make a complete list of its donors public and very few presidents have shared any of those names.

A bill passed a House committee earlier this year to make those donors public but it's unclear if Obama backs it, as he did when he was a candidate in 2007. The Sunlight Foundation supports the legislaton.

Hawaii is competing for the Obama presidential library with Chicago, the state where the president served as a state legislator and U.S. senator and where he maintains his voting residence. The Windy City is believed to have an advantage in the contest. Not only is it the president's adopted home–and first lady Michelle Obama's home–it's also where many former Obama advisers, including David Axelrod, are headquartered, along with the president's nonprofit political arm, Organizing for Action. Chicago businessman and golf partner Marty Nesbitt is leading the site selection process, along with 2012 Obama deputy campaign manager Julianna Smoot. The group is set to accelerate its efforts this month, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.


(Photo credit: Hawaii Community Development Authority)