By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 23, 2008
President Bush's future presidential library and public policy institute will be housed at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, officials announced yesterday, launching a project that could require hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations.
The location of the project has not exactly been a state secret -- representatives of Bush's library foundation have been negotiating with the university for months -- but the announcement means Bush's friends and associates will soon begin raising money to bring the project to fruition.
In a letter sent today to SMU's president, Bush said he looks "forward to the day when both the general public and scholars come and explore the important and challenging issues our Nation has faced during my presidency -- from economic and homeland security to fighting terrorism and promoting freedom and democracy."
The formal announcement of plans for the library is one of the first concrete signs that Bush, who has famously promised he would sprint to the finish of his term, is beginning to look beyond his administration. Bush was recently quoted greeting the mayor of Dallas as "my mayor," fueling speculation that he will be moving to that city after he leaves the Oval Office next year.
SMU is the alma mater of first lady Laura Bush. It was chosen over several other Texas-based institutions to house the library, including Baylor University, the West Texas Coalition for Innovation and Commercialization, the city of Arlington, Texas A&M, the University of Texas and the University of Dallas. As with other presidential libraries, the Bush library and his presidential records themselves will be controlled by the National Archives, while the accompanying institute will be run by Bush's foundation.
At a news conference in Dallas, Donald L. Evans, the former Commerce secretary who led the site selection for the Bush library foundation, said SMU was selected because of its central location in Texas, the strong leadership of the university and "the legacy this city and this school has with this family."
Foundation spokesman Taylor Griffin offered few details of how the foundation plans to raise the money for a project that published estimates have pegged at more than $200 million. The group did name an organizing committee that includes several of Bush's biggest political fundraisers, including Mercer Reynolds, Brad Freeman and Mark Langdale, who is running the foundation on a day-to-day basis.
Griffin would not say whether the foundation will release the names and amounts of the donations, a source of considerable controversy with previous presidential libraries. No other presidential libraries have offered detailed accounting of how they raised their money, according to Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. Krumholz said the libraries are a way for special interests to curry favor with a president.
"The mind-boggling amount of money being secretly raised for the library creates at least a terrible appearance problem for the president," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "All the donors should be identified, and the library should operate in an open and transparent way."
Waxman was one of the sponsors of a bill that was approved by the House last year requiring the disclosure of presidential library donations of $200 or more. The bill is pending in the Senate.
Officials said the foundation will now turn to the rules and approach for fundraising. Asked about public disclosure, Evans said in an interview: "We haven't made a decision. We will meet and have an answer down the road."
Some Methodist leaders have opposed building the library at SMU, and some faculty members have complained about the university identifying itself too closely with the Bush presidency.
"I am not at all a supporter of Bush -- I think he is possibly the worst president this country has ever seen," said Rhonda Blair, a theater professor and past president of the university's faculty senate. But she said she thinks the project could have a long-term benefit for the university and "create a vital environment for conversations across the whole political spectrum."