Former President Barack Obama’s private foundation announced on Monday that it had been pledged $ 100 million by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
The gift, the largest to date for the Obama Foundation, was one of a series of sparkling donations in recent months from Mr. Bezos, one of the richest people in the world. Last week, Mr Bezos announced $ 96.2 million in grants to groups working to end the family’s homelessness.
Since his resignation as CEO of Amazon in July, Mr. Bezos has sharpened his profile as a philanthropist and is also traveling into space on a ship from his rocket company Blue Origin.
In exchange for the donation, Mr. Bezos asked for a place in the Obama Presidential Center to be named after civil rights activist John Lewis, who died last year. The center, which is being built in Chicago, will include a library, museum, sports center, and more.
“Freedom fighters deserve a special place in the pantheon of heroes, and I can think of no more apt person to honor that gift than John Lewis, a great American leader and a man of extraordinary decency and courage,” said Mr Bezos in one Statement from the Obama Foundation. “I am excited to support President and Mrs. Obama and their Foundation in their mission to train and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.”
It wasn’t Mr. Bezos’s greatest gift in recent months, nor was it his first encounter with Mr. Obama’s orbit thanks to his philanthropy. In September, Mr Bezos, along with John Kerry, former Secretary of State for Mr Obama, pledged $ 1 billion for conservation through his Bezos Earth Fund, out of the $ 10 billion he had pledged to the fund.
Despite being out of office, Mr Obama remains an important member of the Democratic Party establishment. Former President of the Obama Foundation, Adewale Adeyemo, served on Mr. Obama’s National Security Council and is now Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.
The Obama Foundation reached out to alumni of the administration as part of its fundraising campaign. Jay Carney, a former press secretary for Mr. Obama who is now Amazon’s top lobby and communications manager, first addressed the possibility of making a donation with Mr. Bezos, according to the foundation. Mr Obama and Mr Bezos discussed the donation several times and it was Mr Bezos’ idea to name the square after Mr Lewis.
News of the gift was previously reported by online media company Puck.
“We intend to use Jeff’s gift to support all of our programs,” said Valerie Jarrett, a former senior advisor to Mr. Obama who is now the foundation’s executive director. “The place will certainly be paid for, and we will also have funds available for our foundation that will allow the programs to go on forever.”
The foundation has a global leadership program, with scholarship holders in Asia, Europe and Africa, as well as programs that aim to fill the opportunity gaps for girls and young black men in the United States.
In 2020, the foundation received $ 171 million in contributions and grants according to its most recent tax return, and ended the year with total assets of $ 564 million. Construction on the center began in August and the official groundbreaking ceremony took place in September, and the foundation has raised enough money to pay for it.
Mr. Bezos has been criticized in recent years for the seemingly slow giving in contrast to his enormous wealth. Forbes put his net worth at about $ 207 billion on Monday, after the $ 300 billion worth of Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.
Bezos’ gifts in particular sometimes looked small compared to the more than $ 8 billion in grants his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott announced in just 11 months. Ms. Scott was praised not only for the size of her gifts, but also for the way she gave the money on few terms.
Unrestricted gifts, as they are known, give organizations far more flexibility than those tied to specific programs, which often causes nonprofits to suffer from the lack of funds necessary to carry out their general business operations. Mr. Bezos’ $ 100 million gift to the Obama Foundation was also unreserved.
The donation was the same amount he gave to the Feeding America food banking network for its Covid-19 Response Fund in April 2020. At a press conference after his voyage into space, Mr. Bezos announced that he had created an award for “civility and courage” and that he would give US $ 100 million each to CNN political commentator Van Jones and chef and restaurateur José Andrés for charitable purposes Purposes of your choice.
He gave $ 200 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in a donation announced in July.
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Mr Bezos remains the CEO of Amazon, which has received widespread criticism for its work practices. Amazon settled the National Labor Relations Board’s charges earlier this year that the company illegally retaliated against two prominent internal critics. The company defeated a union campaign at an Amazon warehouse outside of Birmingham, Alabama in August and prevailed in the largest and most viable threat to workers in the company’s history, but faces a new vote due to some of its tactics during the election.
Mr Bezos created Amazon’s employment model, which is about burning up its hourly workforce, which had around 150 percent annual sales before the pandemic, the New York Times reported earlier this year.
“President Obama is very supportive of unions and appreciates the fact that Jeff is philanthropic, helping not only us but many other organizations do what they could not do without his generosity,” said Ms. Jarrett.
Prior to Mr. Bezos’ gift, the largest donation to the foundation was three gifts of $ 50 million each from Mark Walter, executive director of Guggenheim Partners; Glenn Hutchins, a founder of Silver Lake Partners; and Connie Ballmer, the philanthropist and wife of Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO. Mr. Hutchins and Ms. Ballmer are also members of the Board of Trustees.
According to the foundation’s most recent tax return, the museum will “document the history of President and Mrs. Obama and the Obama administration, place these narratives in a broader historical context with an emphasis on civic discourse, and connect those stories to the movements.” and milestones that have shaped the country and the world over the years. “
Karen Weise contributed to the coverage.