Reforming the Presidential Library Donation Disclosure Process

February 28, 2007

From the web page of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

This hearing will examine the need for public disclosure of donations made to private foundations established to fund presidential libraries and related facilities. The committee will consider possible legislative proposals to require such disclosure.

Updated: A video of the hearing is also now available at the web page.

The following witnesses testified:

Mr. Waxman noted in his statement:

The George H.W. Bush library was reported to cost more than $80 million to build. The Clinton library and museum cost about $165 million to build. News reports have indicated that he fundraising goal for President Bush’s library is $500 million – half a billion dollars – before this institution is completed.

The vast scale of these secret fundraising efforts creates opportunities for abuse. Donors who do not need to be identified can give unlimited amounts of money to support these libraries while the President remains in office. According to some accounts, some mega-donors being courted to fund the Bush library are expected to contribute $10 to $20 million each. And they may make these contributions while there are nearly two years left in President Bush’s term.

Later this week, Rep. Duncan and I will be introducing legislation to reform this system. This legislation would require that presidential libraries disclose the identity of their donors to Congress and the National Archives during their period of most intense fundraising, which is hile the President is in office and in the several years after the end of his term. I expect the Committee to consider this legislation next week.

This legislation is one part of a larger effort by this Committee to restore honesty and accountability in the federal government. In fact, the Committee will soon be considering two additional open government bills: one to improve access to presidential records and one to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act.

As we will learn at today’s hearing and when we mark up the open government legislation, these bills are bipartisan initiatives with broad public support.

Just this morning, the Dallas Morning News reported that President Bush donated over $100,000 to his own library fund, and added:

Other donations that might have come in remain secret. There is no law requiring presidential libraries to disclose funding sources, though some gifts do come to light because the donors themselves – in this case, the Governor Bush Committee – are subject to state or federal disclosure laws.

The Texas Observer blog checks in with an update

February 28, 2007

W, The Library: The Update
Matthew C. Wright
Texas Observer Blog
February 27th, 2007

It’s been a quiet month or so since members of the faculty at Southern Methodist University decided that, maybe, just maybe, it’s not a good idea to let the Current Occupant set up a propaganda mill on campus.

So how is that fight going? “Pretty much everyone seems to have lost interest now that the semester is fully underway,” our sources at the school said this week.

To be expected, I guess, when the faculty doesn’t have a direct seat at the negotiating table with Bush’s site-selection committee. Only SMU president Gerald Turner, a staunch supporter of the library, enjoys that privilege.

But that’s not to say that there isn’t important, riveting, slow-motion drama playing out inside the bureaucracy. Okay, maybe not riveting, but the Faculty Senate is taking what steps it can internally to curb the possible damage Bush’s institute could do.

Continued here (with a nod to the Bush Library Blog as “useful” if not riveting–thanks!)

Bush’s Obstruction of History

February 28, 2007

Bush’s Obstruction of History
John Wertman
The Washington Post
February 26, 200

At some point in the next few months, President Bush is expected to announce his choice for the location of his presidential library. Once it’s open, most of the media attention is likely to focus on the public exhibits, which will no doubt extol the president’s compassionate conservatism, his leadership immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and his impressive selections of John Roberts and Sam Alito for the Supreme Court.

More important to history, however, are the documents that the National Archives will store in the Bush library. These records tell the real story of an administration. Some reveal heartfelt empathy and honest division about a hard decision facing a president at a given moment in time; others may prove embarrassing and show nothing but the basest of political motivations. But for better or for worse, these records belong to the American people and should be available so that future generations can learn from the triumphs and failures of our past leaders.

Continued here.

Methodist Bishops Call on Trustees to Recuse Themselves

February 27, 2007

In today’s Daily Campus, three retired Methodist bishops and an SMU/Perkins alum call on eight trustees to recuse themselves because of longstanding political ties — in most cases, extensive pasts as fundraisers — with George W. Bush’s political career.  In broad strokes, the information they present is not surprising — I don’t think that the insight that wealthy white Texans associated with the oil industry are likely to be Republicans would get me tenure in the political science department — but the extent of the overlap between the Board and Bush’s political circles did take me a bit aback.  This goes well beyond having Laura Bush on the board, or Dick Cheney as an ex-member, or the law school giving an honorary alum degree to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. 

Of course all successful universities need to capture the support and loyalty of their local establishment, and in Dallas this establishment is still all-white, pretty much all-Republican, and still centered on the oil industry (but less and less so on the latter count).  If you look at three universities that have catapulted themselves from being at SMU”s current level as a good regional institution with pockets of national strength, into the ranks of top national universities — Stanford three generations ago, Rice two generations ago, USC in the last generation — they’ve all managed to maintain local elite support while reaching out to a larger, more diverse group of board members and a more diverse student body, in terms of geography, background, and academic interest.  I hope that we haven’t cast our lot so strongly with Bush and the Dallas establishment as to preclude this.  For me, this information is one more reason to be wary of the unprecedented arrangement with the Institute — on campus, with the possibility of sharing faculty lines, but with partisan goals, its own separate board, and without following academic hiring procedures —  that SMU’s administration is contemplating and that the elected faculty leadership has so far refrained from challenging.

Here’s the start of the article:

Recently, First Lady and SMU trustee Laura Bush said that she would not vote on or participate in the decision-making process regarding the proposed Bush Library complex.

We think several other trustees who have had long-term personal, financial or political relationships with President George W. Bush should also recuse themselves from this project rather than permit questions to be raised about whether they have interests that conflict with their fiduciary duty as trustees of the university.

Among them are eight trustees, seven of whom have been major fundraisers and contributors to Bush political campaigns. All information presented below is from public records.

1) Robert H. Dedman Jr. is chair and CEO of Club Corp. International. The Dedmans are long-time friends of the Bush family, and Dedman raised at least $100,000 for the 2000 Bush presidential campaign and gave more than $16,000 to Bush gubernatorial races

2) Ruth Altshuler is a Dallas philanthropist and investor. She pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the 2000 Bush presidential campaign and gave $25,000 toward the 2001 Bush inaugural gala.

3) Alan Feld is a lobbyist and one of two senior executive partners of the 25th largest law firm in the U.S., Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP. He pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the 2000 Bush presidential campaign.

4) Ray L. Hunt is the Chair and CEO of both Hunt Consolidated, Inc. and Hunt Oil, one of the largest privately owned petroleum companies in the world. He was appointed to the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in 2001 and pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the 2000 Bush campaign. He gave $100,000 toward the 2001 Bush inaugural festivities and Hunt Consolidated, Inc., gave another $250,000 toward the Bush 2005 presidential inaugural gala. Hunt already has donated $35 million toward the Bush Complex at SMU.

continued here

More Voices Assail Bush Secrecy in Regards to Library

February 26, 2007

In addition to the Congressional hearings scheduled for this week, there continues to be a set of concerns expressed about Bush’s secrecy and especially Executive Order 13233. I was struck by this editorial cartoon from “The Moderate Voice,” which offers commentary and analysis from a self-described “centrist” position:



Texas Monthly editor Paul Burka also weighs in on this question in March’s issue of the magazine. Burka, who has singled out SMU professors Susanne Johnson and William McElvaney for criticism of their initial opposition to the library, notes the changed dynamics of the debate on campus. As his title — “The Secret History” — indicates, Burka has serious “questions about George W. Bush’s penchant for secretiveness and his exalted sense of his own power and prerogatives.” These concernes are relevant to the library — indeed, central to it, Burka concludes.

The magazine’s cover story is an assessment of Bush’s presidency by a variety of invited guests. “Several contributors to our cover story argue that it may take twenty or thirty years to know the whole story of the Bush presidency-in particular, whether his vision for Iraq and the Middle East has been achieved,” Burka notes. “The irony is that his own directives may make it impossible for historians to examine the record,” he concludes to end the piece.

Burka also offers several pieces of new information. “An SMU official, speaking privately, told me that the university is entering negotiations for oversight [over the Institute], such as (hypothetically) holding seats on the foundation board. ” If this is true, it’s more than the faculty have been told about our administration’s negotiations with the Bush people. And, of course, if SMU’s president can discuss the governance of the Institute with the Bush people despite the fact that President Bush might not be literally in the room, he could certainly bring up the Executive Order, as he has been asked to by the SMU Faculty Senate. It’s dishonest to pretend otherwise.

Two Important Congressional Hearings Next Week

February 24, 2007

Well, these appear to be two concrete results of the library debate.  Too bad that SMU’s president Gerald Turner hasn’t followed the lead of SMU’s historians and its Faculty Senate with a clear statement about the irresponsibility of Executive Order 13233 — this appears to be a missed chance to exercise leadership in higher education while SMU is in the spotlight.

From H-Net, February 23, 2007:

On February 28, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be holding a hearing on the presidential library funding disclosure process
(10 a.m., 2154 Rayburn House Office Building).

On March 1, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and the National Archives will be holding a hearing on the Presidential Records Act (2 p.m., 2154 Rayburn House Office Building). Witnesses from National Coalition for History, members the American Historical Association, the Society of American Archivists and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations will be testifying along with Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein.

(thanks to Maarja Krusten for the link)

Dallas Resident Offers Perspective on Bush Library, Institute from Outside Academia

February 23, 2007

Since much of the discussion about the Bush Complex revolves around the question if its impact on SMU’s public standing, I turned to a friend who is not an academic — I do have a few, but only a few — for his perspective. He’s exactly the kind of person who an institution like SMU would want to think highly of it — educated, thoughtful, with children who will be in college in the not-too-distant future. I flinched when I read his description of how he perceives SMU, but he’s far from the only person with this view.


Professor Johnson asked me to comment on the Bush Library debate from the perspective of an outsider.

I have been a Dallas area resident (on and off) since 1978.

Politically, I consider myself to have strong Libertarian shading. I am an ex -“big tent” Republican who left when the party turned into something more like a tent revival. I am disgusted and disappointed at the performance and competence of Mr. Bush and his administration. But my views on the Bush Library are not the reflection of any rabid anti-Bush or anti-Republican sentiment.

My fiancée is a historian (not at SMU). Since I met her, it has been interesting to learn about academia. As a “civilian”, there is so much about the inner workings of a university that seem counter-intuitive, and even bizarre. But I have gained enough knowledge to understand the process going on at SMU is important for the Dallas and SMU, given the big money, prestige and internal/external politics involved.

As for the library itself, a few points. First, it is going to be at SMU, no matter what. The people that are behind this get what they want, especially in Dallas. However, the debate about the Library is creating activism and passion on both sides and that can only be a good. As John Raisian, the Director of the Hoover Institution, observes, “ideas have consequences, and a free flow of competing ideas leads to an evolution of policy consequences affecting the well-being of society. The Hoover Institution endeavors to be a preeminent contributor of ideas having positive consequences.”

If the Bush library can be a place where there is a free flow of ideas, then I am for it. Thus far, I have not been convinced this is the case. In large part this is because of Executive Order 13233, which disgusts me. I feel guilty as a citizen for not knowing about it before the Bush library debate erupted. The lack of access that historians and other researchers will have to records is very troubling. The philosophical issue disturbs me more. Mr. Bush’s records do not personally belong to him! There are plenty of laws to protect national security already on the books, so that argument is ridiculous. 13233 is a blatant attempt to hide something, and if a Democrat had done it, the right wingers would be going insane. Of all the issues brought up by the debate over the Library, this is the one that resonates the most for me.

As for the Bush Institute, it is OK with me so long as the people involved on both sides (the academics at SMU and the people participating in the Institute) are satisfied with relationship between the two entities. I understand why SMU professors don’t want the Institute to represent its activities as being part of SMU. I get the feeling that the idea of joint appointments of faculty to the Institute and SMU is cute way of installing professors who represent what Bush and his cronies believe to be something in short supply – right-wing professors. But really, does the general public even understand what goes on at a Presidential Library, and why they should think it is important? I don’t believe this idea has been explored well enough in any media.

The ongoing discussion also raises some interesting points about SMU. I realized years ago that Dallas is missing the influence a university provides. Not necessarily a GREAT University, but ANY University. Great cities have a diversity of thought and people. A university injects this into a city’s social fabric. SMU has never provided this, and Dallas has suffered for it.

I see SMU as a school where affluent families send their kids when they can’t get into more academically prestigious universities. SMU students are expected to find a suitable mate as they drink their way through four or five years of fraternity and sorority parties. It doesn’t seem to be academically rigorous, or produce quality graduates who go on to make a big impact outside of Dallas.

To the outsider, it is a pretty campus in a ritzy area with lots of students in expensive clothes and cars. The topic of SMU almost never comes up in conversation with anyone I know outside of academia. It is as if, outside of the bubble of the Park Cities, SMU does not even exist. It has no impact on my perception of Dallas as a city or a region because it is seemingly invisible.

The Bush library, if it is constructed correctly, could have the effect of raising SMU’s profile as a university. However, if this process is just another big money Dallas railroad job, and the Institute and Library are not a serious academic and public policy resources for scholars (both academic and non-academic), then the entire thing becomes a farce and a candy coated revisionist Bush museum. This would be the worst of all possible outcomes for both Dallas and SMU.

The debate about the Bush library, and the opportunity to meet several faculty members, has raised my estimation of SMU as an academic institution. There are people who are passionate, and SMU is not just a monolithic institution churning out young affluent Republicans to populate the exurbs.

So – from an outsider’s view (though I am slightly biased because of my connection to a historian), I see an opportunity for the prestige of SMU and Dallas to be greatly enhanced, ONLY if the Library and Institute are set up in a way that maintains the credibility of both institutions.