Donations to ever-more-costly presidential libraries must be disclosed

Common Cause Vice President for Advocacy Celia Wexler testified Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to urge support for a proposal to require disclosure on contributions made to presidential libraries.

Wexler testified in support of Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA)’s proposal that would require quarterly public disclosure through the Internet of donations of $200 or more to presidential fundraising organizations.

“Our campaign finance laws, particularly the ban on soft money, are supposed to sever the link between big donors and elected officials,” Wexler said in her testimony. “But if sitting presidents are raising money in undisclosed, unlimited amounts for projects in which they are personally invested, wealthy special interests have unprecedented opportunities to seek access and influence at the White House and evade all public scrutiny. At the very least, the public deserves to know the amount of donations, the names, addresses and occupations of the donors, and the dates donations were made.”

A presidential library complex has become one of the vehicles for presidents to ensure that their Administrations are taken seriously. The libraries also provide a platform for presidents to continue work on issues they care about. Increasingly presidential libraries, and the museums, centers and other institutions tied to them, have become grand and expensive attractions.

For example, the first presidential library, housing the papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, cost less than $400,000 to build, about $5 million adjusted for inflation. But since that time, presidential libraries have grown more and more ambitious and costly. The $26 million Carter library was succeeded by the $57 million Reagan library, followed in turn by the $83 million library complex for former President George H.W. Bush, and the $165 million Clinton library complex. George W. Bush’s presidential library complex may cost as much as $500 million.

“Without disclosure, citizens and Congress cannot truly evaluate the impact of presidential library fundraising on our politics and public policy,” Wexler said. “Disclosure is always the indispensable first step to comprehensive reform.”

Click here to read the full testimony.