Presidential Library Funding Disclosure Bill Clears the House

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On the day the presidential records bill passed (January 7, 2009), the House of Representatives approved H.R. 36, the “Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2009,” by a vote of 388-31. H.R. 36 requires organizations fundraising for presidential libraries to disclose their donations while the president is in office and during the period before the federal government has taken possession of the library.

Since it is unlikely the bill will be passed by January 20, 2009, the disclosure requirements would not be applied retroactively to any funds President George W. Bush raised while in office. However, it would apply to donations made to the George W. Bush Presidential Library after enactment, and to libraries for President-elect Obama and his successors. Former-president Bill Clinton recently voluntarily released the names of past donors to his presidential library to help facilitate the confirmation of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to be Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

The bill is identical to one passed by the House in 2007. A presidential libraries donations bill passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in 2007, but it differed with regard to the disclosure of donations while a president is in office and, after a president leaves office, when the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has assumed responsibility for the facility.

Presidential libraries are built using private funds raised by an organization or foundation working on behalf of the president. Under current law, donations for the presidential library can be unlimited in size and need not be disclosed. In addition, foreign nationals can make contributions to a sitting, or former, president’s library foundation. This is in contrast to federal election laws that prohibit contributions by foreign nationals.

The bill would require that all organizations established for the purpose of raising funds for presidential libraries or their related facilities report on a quarterly basis all contributions of $200 or more. The bill also sets a minimum reporting period of four years after the end of a president’s term.

Organizations that raise funds for presidential libraries typically begin fundraising while the president remains in office. Before the library is turned over to the National Archives, these organizations must raise enough money to build the library and to provide the Archivist with an endowment for the maintenance of the facility. A law passed by Congress last year raised the threshold for the amount of money that must be raised before NARA can take possession of a presidential archive depository. The new bill will make presidential library funding even more challenging.
Under H.R. 36, presidential library fund-raising organizations would be required to disclose to Congress and the Archivist the amount and date of each contribution, the name of the contributor, and if the contributor is an individual, the occupation of the contributor. The National Archives would be required to make the information available to the public through a free, searchable, and downloadable database on the Internet.

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