By Kevin Bogardus - 05/01/13 09:00 AM EDT
Lobbyists, corporations and trade associations have contributed at least $7.5 million to the post-presidential life of former President George W. Bush — including his library and public policy initiatives.
A review of lobbying disclosure records by The Hill found that multinational companies, former Bush aides now on K Street and prominent business associations have all helped finance the ex-president’s work since he left the White House.
Donations to presidential libraries don’t have to be disclosed — with the exception of gifts above $200 from registered lobbyists. Those contributions must be disclosed under a 2007 ethics law, providing a rare look at the large cash donations that flow to the archives erected for former presidents.
Watchdogs argue more transparency is needed, considering presidents often begin fundraising for their libraries while occupying the Oval Office.
“The president is deciding on matters of state, but at the same time, he’s courting donors — could be American citizens, could be royalty from other countries. We don’t know who,” said Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation. “The definition of lobbyist is so narrow, it misses who is truly politically influential.”
The names of more than 160 donors who gave $1 million or more are etched on a wall at the Bush Center, according to The Dallas Morning News, providing one of the few public glimpses of the fundraising efforts behind it.
“Having it on a set of bricks on a library in Texas is not really disclosure, nor releasing the information years later,” Schuman said. “That’s why you need real disclosure backed up by the force of law.”
Some companies spent millions of dollars to support Bush’s presidential center, disclosure records show.
Alticor, the parent company of Amway, reported giving $5 million to the George W. Bush Foundation. Richard DeVos, a prominent Republican donor, is an Amway co-founder.
“Amway supports the George W. Bush Presidential Center and Bush Institute’s mission of advancing freedom by expanding opportunities for people everywhere,” said Andrea Clark, an Amway spokeswoman.
AT&T disclosed giving at least $1.5 million to Bush’s foundation, according to lobbying records. The Dallas Morning News reported the company has actually given more: $2.5 million.
Several donors said it was common practice for the company to give to presidential libraries for both parties.
“We have donated to multiple presidential libraries,” said Michael Balmoris, an AT&T spokesman, noting the company has contributed to libraries for Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush. “Presidential libraries serve as an important historical and educational function.”
Ford Motor Co. gave $50,000 to the George W. Bush Foundation, but has also given $70,000 to Jimmy Carter’s presidential library, according to records.
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) gave $25,000 to Bush’s presidential center. Brian Wolff, EEI’s senior vice president, said that’s in line with the group’s giving to presidential foundations, including the Clinton Global Initiative.
“We had a few people who wanted to attend the opening, so that’s why we ended up giving,” Wolff said, referring to the Bush Center’s dedication last week.
Some donors said their contributions were to support Bush’s public policy initiatives, not the library. ExxonMobil supported a September 2011 conference in Washington.
“ExxonMobil provided funding for a global health conference, the Summit to Save Lives, which was organized by the George W. Bush Institute,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for the oil and gas giant. ExxonMobil reported giving $350,000 to the Bush Center.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America also reported giving $75,000 to the Bush Center, which went to the same summit, according to Matt Bennett, senior vice president for the trade group.
A $25,000 contribution from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Bush Center “was to help sponsor a Bush Institute event last year on the economy and the 4% Growth Project,” said Blair Latoff Holmes, a Chamber spokeswoman.
Prominent lobbyists have given to Bush’s presidential library.
Tom Korologos, a strategic adviser at DLA Piper, has given more than $20,000 so far, according to records. Korologos said he signed up for a donor package for the library and expected his total donations will be about $25,000 when that package is completed.
“I liked him. He is a personal friend,” said Korologos, who served as Bush’s ambassador to Belgium.
Bob Grand, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg and former Bush campaign aide, has given $10,000 to the Bush library.
“The guy inspired me. I met him in 1999, signed up for the campaign in 2000, and I think he did a wonderful job,” Grand said.
Other lobbyists on K Street — including Christopher Padilla of IBM; Dan Meyer of the Duberstein Group; and Jim Nicholson, Bush’s former Vatican ambassador and Veteran Affairs secretary, now at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck — have also contributed cash to Bush’s legacy projects.
The George W. Bush Foundation’s latest tax form from 2011 shows it has raised more than $415 million so far.
Legislation is pending in Congress that would require presidential libraries to disclose all of their donors.
Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) has introduced a bill that would require presidential libraries to submit quarterly reports detailing contributors who gave $200 or more in that time period. That information would then be posted on the website of the National Archives.
The legislation has since been voted out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Duncan’s office is hopeful that it will get a floor vote.
“It’s in the hands of leadership at this point. We are hopeful it will receive a vote,” said Patrick Newton, a Duncan spokesman. Newton noted Duncan’s bill has passed the House three times in the past.
The Sunlight Foundation supports Duncan’s bill and organized a letter, with 24 other groups signing on, sent to congressional leaders that backed the legislation.
“This kind of secret money can breed corruption,” Schuman said. “You get to be heard. How much money do you have to give to set up a meeting at the White House? How much attention does $10 million buy you?”