The House on Wednesday passed legislation that would require the disclosure of donations to fund the construction and operation of presidential libraries.
It is the fourth time since 2002 that the House has approved the bipartisan legislation, known as the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act. The bill has died in the Senate each time it has been introduced.
"The public should be made aware of possible conflicts of interest that sitting presidents can have or may have while raising funds for their libraries," said Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), the bill's author. Duncan co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
"We do not know who these donors to the presidential libraries are or what interests they may have on any pending policy decisions that are to be made," Duncan said.
Raising cash for presidential libraries is an arduous task. The library for former President George W. Bush shattered records by taking in more than $500 million in donations, according to the Chicago Tribune.
While lobbyists and organizations that hire them must file semi-annual reports listing all political donations, which include any financial or in-kind gifts to presidential library nonprofits, those foundations are not required to disclose their donors.
Lawmakers of both parties said letting the public know who is donating to outgoing presidents' libraries would shine light on potential pay-for-play attempts.
"Requiring the disclosures of donors would help prevent the trading of political favors in exchange for donations," said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.).
Lobbyists, trade groups and corporations gave $7.5 million to the Bush Center — including AT&T, Ford Motor Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Alticor, the parent company of Amway, according to an analysis of disclosure record by The Hill in 2013.
Some fundraising organizations have made it a policy to list their donors online. The Obama Foundation, which is raising money for the president’s library, lists names of donors in broad donation categories — such as those who give $200 to $100,000, all the way to donors who contribute between $500,000 and $1 million.
The Presidential Library Donation Reform Act would require that the fundraising organizations or foundations submit quarterly reports listing the name of any donor who gave more than $200 in money or in-kind services, in addition to the date and amount of the contribution.
Controversy has swirled when reports surface of donations from foreign sources.
The William J. Clinton Foundation — which, among other things, runs former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Is Wall Street serving its own interests by supporting China's? MORE’s library and has become the Clinton Foundation — took about 10 percent of its $165 million price tag in 2007 from foreign sources, according to a Washington Post report from the time.
Saudi Arabia’s royal family had been the most generous to Clinton, giving $10 million, the Post reported. The nation gave a similar amount to help fund the library of former President George H.W. Bush. Kuwait gave the Clinton library and the Bush library at least $1 million each.
Other countries, including Japan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and the nations of Taiwan and Brunei have given to one or several presidential library fundraising efforts by Clinton, the elder Bush or former President Ronald Reagan.
In the Senate, Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Sen. Ron Johnson hoping for Democratic 'gridlock' on reconciliation package Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE (R-Wis.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperIs the Biden administration afraid of trade? Congress sends 30-day highway funding patch to Biden after infrastructure stalls Senate to try to pass 30-day highway bill Saturday after GOP objection MORE (D-Del.) introduced companion legislation on library donations in the last Congress. It is unclear whether it will be re-introduced in the new session.
More than a dozen groups — including the Center for Responsive Politics, the Sunlight Foundation, the American Library Association, Project On Government Oversight, the Society of Professional Journalists, Common Cause and Public Citizen — have long pushed for Congress to approve the legislation.
"The private money can be raised in any amount and from any source, including foreign governments and people or corporations seeking government favors," writes the Center for Responsive Politics, which runs the website OpenSecrets.org. "That's a problem, given that sitting presidents can begin fundraising for their own libraries long before they leave office."