Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2016by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton
Posted on 2016-01-11
NORTON. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I support this bill, Mr. Speaker.
I want to thank Representative Duncan and Ranking Member Cummings for sponsoring this legislation. Representative Duncan first sponsored a bill to improve Presidential libraries 16 years ago. What has happened that we can't get this bill through the Congress? I hope this bill this year will prove different. This Congress, I hope we can finally get this important reform on the President's desk where I am sure it will be signed.
The Presidential Library Donation Reform Act would provide transparency to the process for building Presidential libraries. The practice of creating a Presidential library began decades ago with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The tradition has carried on through every President since that time, and it is going to continue.
Presidential libraries have become increasingly more expensive as they [[Page H249]] have evolved into multipurpose centers that do more than simply house Presidential records. For example, the William J. Clinton Library cost an estimated $165 million, while the George W. Bush Presidential Center cost an estimated $250 million to build, with President Bush having raised approximately half a billion dollars for his library, museum, and institute. We can expect that with each new President, these libraries are going to cost more. That is just natural.
Under current law, there is no requirement to disclose the identities of those who donate to a Presidential library, and a President is able to secure an unlimited amount of private donations while still in office.
The bill before us would make a simple but very important change in existing law. Under this bill, organizations that raise money to build Presidential libraries would be required to disclose the identity of any individual who donates more than $200. It seems reasonable to me, Mr. Speaker. The National Archives and Records Administration would then be required to post the donation information in a manner that is free to access and downloadable.
Additionally, this legislation would create criminal penalties for individuals who report false information on donations and for fundraising organizations that omit donation information.
A group of 15 good government organizations, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Sunlight Foundation, sent a letter urging the House to support this bill. Here is what they wrote: ``Under the current opaque system, Presidents raise funds privately to establish their Presidential libraries. These efforts, which often begin long before they leave office, are unregulated and undisclosed, creating opportunities for, or the appearance of, influence-peddling. Improved transparency would help reduce the appearance of impropriety and help deter inappropriate behavior.'' The appearance is just as important as the behavior itself, I emphasize, Mr. Speaker.
This bill was approved without opposition by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in March and has passed the House several times before.
As I noted, companion legislation sponsored by Senators Corker and Johnson was approved by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year.
It looks like this bill may become law after all, Mr. Duncan.
I urge every Member of this body to support transparency by voting for this important legislation.
I yield back the balance of my time.