Only now has it become apparent that federal taxpayers, not Illinoisans, will be funding most of the public support for the controversial Obama Center to be built on Chicago’s Southside.
Wirepoints has learned from administrative officials and legislators that at least $139 million — 80% of the public funding for the center — almost certainly will be reimbursed by the federal government. The project was already under attack for a number of other reasons, including a First Amendment “compelled speech” claim that it would force taxpayers to fund private, political advocacy.
The center was initially pitched as a privately funded presidential library. Many Illinois taxpayers therefore were angered to learn that at least $174 million was included in the state’s 1,246-page budget presented in May to rank and file General Assembly members only hours before their vote. Nor will the center be a presidential library.
However, it turns out that federal taxpayers will be the ones compelled to make the subsidy. The Illinois appropriation is for roadway and transit reconfigurations needed to accommodate the center, and 80% of such spending is generally reimbursable by the federal government. Wirepoints has confirmed with state officials that federal reimbursement of at least $139 million is highly likely.
Stoking the controversy is the stated mission of the center, which is partly political. The Original Request for Proposals said the center would “enhance the pursuit of [President Obama’s] initiatives beyond 2017.” Former President Obama has further commented to the same effect. As the Chicago Tribune put it, “As he’s long maintained, Obama said he envisions his center as a place where young people from around the world can meet each other, get training and prepare to become the next generation of leaders.”
The center is already subject to a federal lawsuit with a First Amendment claim based on taxpayer support for a private, political purpose. A lawsuit of that type is difficult to win, but it may be bolstered by the recent Janus decision by the United States Supreme Court. Janus was based on the prohibition of compelled speech, and that same doctrine underpins the First Amendment claim about the center.
Here are the details and background:
Contrary to its clear, initial description as a presidential library, it won’t be one. The center will be owned and run by the Obama Foundation, not the National Archives and Records Administration, as are presidential libraries. Obama’s records, artifacts and papers will not be there.