According to the Sunlight Foundation, on March 20 the House Oversight and Government Reform committee green-lighted a bill that would make public presidential library donation records. (In committee testimony, Sunlight Foundation Policy Counsel Daniel Schuman endorsed the legislation.)
The bill would require disclosure of all donations over $200, whereas currently no donations are required to be disclosed. Future presidential library foundations would have to report donors to the National Archives on a quarterly basis. The Archives would then post them online in a searchable, downloadable database. (The National Archives also manages many, but not all, of the Presidential Libraries.)
The measure is sponsored by Rep. John Duncan, Jr., R-TN. “Presidential library fundraising organizations are formed while a President is in office and collect donations from individuals, corporations, and foreign governments with no limit on the contribution amount. When there is no requirement for disclosing the donor or the amounts being donated, there is great potential for abuse,” Duncan said in a statement. “I first introduced this bill in 1999 after learning that foreign governments from the Middle East were making very large donations to the proposed library for President Clinton. However, this is not a partisan issue. I introduced and have supported this legislation under both Democratic and Republican Presidents,” Duncan continued.
Elijah Cummings, D-MD, and ranking Oversight committee member, concurred. He became a cosponsor of the bill on March 14, stating, “This should not be a partisan measure.”
The next step will be a vote in the House of Representatives. Not for the first time: the bill passed the house in 2002, 2007, and 2009, but died in the Senate each time.
Donations to President Clinton’s library were voluntarily released after his wife, Hillary Clinton, was nominated to be Secretary of State. George W. Bush’s foundation has kept donors to the library private so far, even as the library readies itself to open on May 1 on the campus of Southern Methodist University, according to the Miami Herald.
By getting out of committee the bill has already beaten GovTrack’s odds: the site predicted it had a 28 percent chance of making it this far, and gives it an 8 percent chance of being ultimately enacted.