By: Mark Glennon*

The taxpayer bill for the Obama Center to be built on Chicago’s Southside is now $224 million, not $172 million as initially reported, and it’s certainly not privately funded as initially promised. And how many Chicagoans know they may be subject to a special property tax, in addition to those amounts, for the center?

The elements of that $224 million are described in a Washington Examiner article yesterday. We shouldn’t be surprised because funding was stuck into the new Illinois budget — over 900 pages presented to the General Assembly only hours before being voted on it. It’s only now being read closely.

My monthly article in Crain’s, written early last week, is a polite request to former President Obama to turn down public funding and raise the money himself. Scratch that. With more known and public anger rising, a demand is in order, and maybe the whole project should be scrapped.

The public has been bamboozled. To see why, you should first understand what’s nicely laid out in the federal lawsuit filed last month by Protect Our Parks, a not-for-profit.

That lawsuit is focused mostly on how the transfer of parkland for the center to the Obama Foundation trampled state law. The case looks strong. The complaint is in plain English and straightforward so you can read it yourself. Jackson Park is among the finest parks in Chicago and beautiful by any city’s standards. Some of it is being taken for the center with no compensation.

To get the parkland transfer properly authorized, Springfield amended the state’s Museum Act to cover the center, which the complaint describes. That’s how authorization for additional property taxes also resulted because the Museum Act provides for that. See paragraph 119 of the complaint.

What’s important to all Americans, however, is the First Amendment claim, which is also in the complaint. The First Amendment not only protects free speech, but has also frequently been used to strike down “compelled speech.” Using taxpayer money for political purposes can be challenged as compelled speech. (Coincidentally, compelled speech is also central to the Janus case on forced public union membership, an important decision on which will come this month.)

Why would the Obama Center be compelled speech? That’s where the “bait and switch” happened, which is the phrase used in the lawsuit. A presidential library became Obamaland.

The center was initially pitched as a presidential library to be privately funded. Per my Crain’s article: “Your foundation’s request for proposals in 2014 explicitly described a presidential library and contained nothing about state funding. ‘Construction and maintenance will be funded by private donations, and no taxpayer money will go to the foundation,’ the foundation’s spokeswoman said, and the interpretation was that you and your wife assured 100 percent private funding.”

Planning how to spend your money.

But that’s not what we got.

The center will not be a presidential library because Obama’s archives and documents won’t be there there and it won’t be federally run. From my Crain’s article:

What’s left without the library is unquestionably political, at least in large part….

You’ve been open about its political mission. The RFP described “an institute that will enhance the pursuit of the president’s initiatives beyond 2017 and have local, regional and global impacts.” You’ve said, “What we want this to be is the world’s premier institution for training young people and leadership to make a difference in their communities, in their countries and in the world.”

And now, with no public debate or legislative hearings, $172 million appeared in the Illinois budget presented to the General Assembly for vote with no time for review. We know how that happened: Chicago politicians simply asked for it, and they control the General Assembly.

The money is for mass transit and roadways associated with the center, but that’s part and parcel of the project…. [M]uch of the state money will be reimbursed by the federal government, but that’s no consolation. Taxpayers outside Illinois, who won’t benefit from any economic impact, have even more reason to object than Illinoisans.

Protect Our Parks’ lawsuit was filed before the budget was published and the state money became known. I assume the complaint will be amended to describe the state funding, which bolsters the First Amendment claim.

But forget the legal aspect. This is just wrong. Taxpayers shouldn’t be funding an Obama political operation and the whole thing stinks. $224 million is a lot of money that Illinois desperately needs. Obama could easily raise it from his friends. Heck, just those folks giving a standing ovation to Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards probably would be glad to cover it and get their names somewhere on the center.

Beyond the Washington Examiner article, FOX News and others are now on the story. Our initial story on this from June 1 was also reproduced nationally. More will come.

Maybe the controversy would abate if Obama rejects the public money and raises it privately.

He probably won’t. He’ll take the money from taxpayers and the center will be known forever as Obamaland, a monument to little more than misuse of government power, hubris and Chicago machine control over Illinois government.

*Mark Glennon is founder and executive editor of Wirepoints.

UPDATED 6/19/18 to state more clearly that the total taxpayer bill increased.



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I think mark is prejudice!

Jaded American

Wow- it is not even going to be a presidential library- no books or records for public. Instead, it is going to be an institute for turning outleftist socialist warriors in order to remake the US into Obama’s dream and be his foundation- all paid for by tax dollars when it was supposed to be paid for by donations as well as stealing public park land not even having to pay for it. Read how much money has come out of the Illinois budget (you know the state too broke to pay teachers, cops, government workers, bils for materials. etc.… Read more »


It’s as if Dem legislators in charge of taxpayers’ money…..LIKE this type of spending ! They think of “reasons” it’ll be worthwhile…like the common canard:
” It’ll help the self-esteem of the poor minority children so they can succeed in life “

Tim clifton

My reply. The Illinois government can’t take care of fancy pension plans annual pay raises and their own promised 100 percent health care. But yet again WITHOUT tax payer votes these fools can find 200 mil for more ridiculousness. When is Illinois going to hold these people’s assets responsible for their promises. Tax payers are NOT on the hook for any of this. The Illinois government personnel is who should be on the hook

Lady Liberty

How lazy can this grifter get – I don’t even respect him but could at least get $100m raised


Why do I get the feeling that the final cost to taxpayers will be on the order of $500MM? Probably because everything Obama asked of the American public was far more expensive, onerous and destructive than we imagined.

The point of a Presidential Library is to be a research center for historians. This is why their papers, books etc are kept at the Library. If you go to the Clinton Library in Little Rock, it’s got all that plus an event center that hosts non-political public events. Obama’s Library is not about historical research, but about training the next generation of Bill Ayers acolytes.


Appears to be a fortress with bunkers designed to be protected… begs the question why?

Eileen A. Ellis

I’ve forwarded and, for the eaae of the readers, took a screen shot of secrion 119 of the complaint.

I will be very angry if Elon Musk’s project links to this under “transportation”


I’m tired of my tax dollars going to the boring back-office expenses for all these large public undertakings. Let Penny Pritzker fund the exit ramps and updated sewers. I want my tax dollars going towards that awesome basketball court or grand lobby.


It is very difficult if not nearly impossible to vote out any politician in Illinois. Many run unopposed (up to 65%) so the ballot has only 1 candidate with no write in space. Political boundaries (redistricting of gerrymandering) are drawn to insure they will win with little opposition. If someone does oppose there will be a smear campaign against them. More than $200 Mil will be spent on governor race to see who can take the most money out of my pocket and give it to someone else with political clout. The speaker of the house is ONLY voted in… Read more »


This would be a problem normally, but history tells us that the majority of citizens are okay with a heavy tax burden and that they continue to vote the same type of politicians into office who levy the taxes. This is not a monument to Obama, but rather the final punctuation on a people who believe that government better spends their money than they do. Obama knows a compliant population when he sees it. This one’s for them. Or on them, as usual.


They’re pushing this on every US citizen.

Kay Kay

ONCE A THIEF..always a thief……


How about a small library with just a few books — the shortest books ever — such as:
Accomplishments That Earned Me the Peace Prize, by BHObama.
My Accomplishments as President, also by BHO.
Things we Love About Capitalism, by BHO and Bill Ayers.
How to Quit Smoking, by BHO.
How To Play Golf Well, by BHO.
My Published Papers while on Harvard Law Review, by BHO.