May 22, 2017

Obama Foundation Raises Record $13.1 Million

Fundraising for the Obama Foundation surged last year, totaling $13.1 million. This is the most the foundation has raised since its founding in 2014, according to government-required Forms 990 for nonprofits released by the foundation last Monday.

The fundraising total is expected to increase even more in future years in order to cover the expected $500 million cost of the Obama Presidential Center. Former President Obama has held several fundraisers for the presidential center already. He can now operate without his self-imposed restriction on making direct appeals for donation while in office.

Most of last year’s donations were collected from a small group of loyal supporters, and nine donations were worth $1 million or more.

Among the biggest donors are Fay Hartog-Levin, former Obama administration ambassador to the Netherlands and a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and Louis Susman, former ambassador to Great Britain, along with their spouses. Each couple pledged $1 million.

The George Lucas Family Foundation, owned by filmmaker George Lucas, contributed $1 million toward the presidential center. Mellody Hobson, Lucas’s wife and a Chicago native, sits on the Obama Foundation's board.

The foundation has now raised more than $20 million, compared to the $1.5 million it raised in 2015. However, the foundation’s expenses are also increasing as it takes on more staff. The 990 tax filings detail monetary compensation to employees that exceed $100,000.

Executive director of the Obama Foundation, Robbin Cohen, remains the highest paid employee at the foundation with a base salary of $490,627.

The foundation also puts a significant amount of money toward legal services, and developing the civic-minded message Obama envisions for the library. The foundation paid $838,568 for Chicago lawyer Katten Muchin Rosenman’s legal services, and $532,848 for work from Blue State Digital, the marketing and communications firm that worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign and Google’s Take Action and Impact initiatives.

Despite these expenses, the auditor’s report revealed the foundation was saving on a lot of costs as well. The foundation is spending $1 to lease office space for eight years, when it would have usually cost $220,134. The foundation received $275,225 worth of trademark and information technology services for free, and saved $31,330 picking out the library site in Jackson Park.

Donations, staff expenses, and legal and marketing service figures are expected to increase even more next year, as the presidential center is slated to begin construction and fundraising attempts to keep pace.