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Obama Foundation Ramping Up Fundraising, Brought In $13.1 Million In 2016

By Sam Cholke | May 16, 2017 8:38am | Updated on May 16, 2017 9:23am
 Former President Barack Obama announced plans for his presidential library recently at the South Shore Cultural Center.
Former President Barack Obama announced plans for his presidential library recently at the South Shore Cultural Center.
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Joshua Mellin

HYDE PARK — Fundraising for the Obama Presidential Library geared up in 2016, with the Obama Foundation raising $13.1 million, according to tax documents.

The foundation released IRS forms Monday that show the foundation’s fundraising started to accelerate as Barack Obama prepared to leave the White House last year.

Among the donors are former Obama administration ambassadors to the Netherlands, Fay Hartog Levin, and to Great Britain, Louis Susman, both pledging $1 million.

The foundation has now raised more than $20 million since it was started in 2014 and raised significantly more than it did in 2015, when it raised $1.9 million.

Obama had put self-imposed caps on how much donors could give until he left office in early 2017 and was not actively fundraising while in office.

Now that he’s out of office, fundraising is expected to ramp up significantly. Obama has held several fundraisers for the library already.

The foundation’s expenses are also increasing as it brings on more staff.

Compensation for staff nearly doubled to $1.1 million in 2016 as the organization brought more people on board to start planning the design and construction of the library and also bumped up existing staffs’ salaries as the foundation’s work geared up.

Executive director Robbin Cohen remains the highest paid employee at the foundation, making a base salary of $490,627, according to the filings.

Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were also brought on in June 2016 and were paid $305,224 during those first months of brainstorming for what the Obama library’s design would look like.

For all those expenses, the foundation was also getting a lot of work for free, according to the auditor’s report.

The foundation is leasing office space for eight years for $1 that would have cost $220,134 at full price. The foundation also got $275,225 in trademark and information technology work for free. An additional $31,330 in work to help pick the library site in Jackson Park was also done for free, according to the auditor’s report.

Obama appears to also be putting spending a significant amount of money to develop the civic-minded message he said he wants the library to embody.

The foundation spent $532,848 for work from Blue State Digital, the marketing and communications firm that worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign, Google’s Take Action and Impact initiatives and Sierra Club campaigns.

The figures are all expected to increase dramatically when next year’s report come out as the foundation gears up to start construction of the library and fundraising accelerates to keep pace.