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Ayers and Obama: Follow the Money (Updated: Nearly $2M to Ayers)

John on October 11, 2008 at 12:51 am

[Note: On 10-10 I added some additional research to this piece so I've bumped it back up top.]

A political whistle blower once told an eager reporter to “follow the money.” That turns out to be pretty good advice. In politics, money and relationships tend to go together. So let’s look at some of the political/financial relationships between Barack Obama and the Ayers family and see if Obama’s claim that he had no significant relationship with Ayers still sounds reasonable.

All told, boards on which Barack Obama sat delivered $1,087,556 to Bill Ayers’ Small Schools Workshop.By now everyone knows that Barack Obama and Bill Ayers worked together as part of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, distributing over $100 million dollars to Chicago schools. Obama was picked from relative obscurity by someone to help deliver the funds to eager applicants.

The first wave of grants was issued in 1996. Just 35 awards were made out of over 150 applicants that first year. Among them was $175K [Note the correction here.] $1,056,162 for the Small Schools Workshop, Bill Ayers’ think tank at the University of Chicago. Obama was literally helping to fund Ayers vision. But that’s just the beginning.

The Joyce Foundation was originally the financial nest egg of a widow whose family had made millions in the lumber industry. After her death, the money was taken over by philanthropists who increasingly dedicated their giving to liberal causes including gun control, environmentalism and school reforms.

Barack Obama served on the board of the Joyce Foundation from 1994-2002. A review of the foundations website shows some interesting connections both to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and Bill Ayers in particular:

  • 1996
    • The Joyce Foundation gave $50K to a group called Leadership for Quality Education run by Bill Ayers’ brother John Ayers. According to this May 1998 issue of Catalyst magazine (a periodical focused on Chicago school refrom) Leadership for Quality Education is “a corporate group that administers the umbrella Small Schools Coalition.” The Small School Coalition website shows John and Bill Ayers are the lead members on the “Policy Committee.” In short, the Ayers brothers were parners in the Small Schools initiatives in Chicago. A donation to LQE, for all intents and purposes, was support for Bill Ayers vision for Chicago schools.
  • 1997
    • Even as Obama worked with Ayers at CAC, the foundation gives $337,556 to the Small Schools workshop at the University of Chicago.
    • An additional $95K to John Ayers’ Leadership for Quality Education “To continue assisting the recruitment, startup, and operation of charter schools in Chicago.”
  • 1998
    • Another $149K to Leadership for Quality Education “To assist in the recruitment, startup, and operation of charter schools in Chicago; to evaluate the need for a similar approach in the Chicago metropolitan region; and to assist charter school proponents in Cleveland (18 mos.)” [HT: RBO for this one.]
  • 1999
    • Another $125K to John Ayers’ group Leadership for Quality Education, the stated purpose of which was “To organize, in cooperation with a network of grassroots and reform organizations, a citywide campaign to generate greater participation in Chicago’s local school council elections.”
    • An additional $160K grant to the University of Illinois College of Education “To continue providing technical assistance to a network of small schools in Chicago and to continue advocacy and policy work promoting the expansion of the small schools concept within the Chicago Public School system” The link provided goes to the Small Schools Workshop website indicating this money was granted to Bill Ayers’ group.
  • 2000
    • $365K to the Univ. of Illinois College of Education “To continue developing small schools…” Although it is not mentioned by name in the description, the link included with this grant goes directly to the Small Schools Workshop website. So once again, this money went to Bill Ayers.
    • John Ayers’ Leadership for Quality Education gets $187,100
  • 2001
    • The Foundation gives $600K in grants to found the Chicago Public Education Fund. This is the successor to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Archives for their website are mysteriously unavailable, but both John Ayers and Barack Obama are listed as members of their leadership council.
  • 2002
    • A $1.5 million, five year grant is given to the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative. The initiative is interested in turning 5 Chicago high schools into “small schools.” The planning grant for this initiative lists both Bill Ayers book and his Small Schools website in its appendices. Coincidentally, Bill Ayers co-edited a book with Patricia Ford, executive director of the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative (the book was published in 1996 and it’s not clear she held that position at the time. She may have taken it on later)
    • John Ayers’ Leadership for Quality Education another $75K.

But that’s not all. Obama was also a board member of the Woods Fund from 1999 to 2002. Also serving on the Woods Fund board was Bill Ayers:

  • 1999
    • A grant of $50K to the Leadership for Quality Education which is described as “a pooled fund to underwrite costs for community and faith-based institutions to conduct outreach for candidate recruitment for Local School Councils and to encourage voter turnout for the elections.” So in this case both Obama and Bill Ayers are directing money toward John Ayers.
    • In the same year, Woods also granted $30K (spread over two years) to the Small Schools Coalition, which again was the creation of John Ayers and led by himself and his brother Bill.
  • 2001
    • A $50K grant to the Small Schools Workshop, headed by you-know-who.

All told, boards on which Barack Obama sat delivered $1,968,718 to Bill Ayers’ Small Schools Workshop. These same boards granted another $761,100 to John Ayers’ Leadership for Quality Education group (and the SSC), which as I’ve noted already funded the Small Schools umbrella group he ran with Bill Ayers.

Additionally, there’s the $1.5 million to redesign five Chicago high schools along the lines Bill Ayers was promoting (He’s highlighted prominently in the grant writing appendices). All in all that’s a not insignificant contribution to the Ayers family and their causes, certainly enough to rebut claims by the NY Times that the two men merely “crossed paths.” Barack Obama, more than any other individual one could name, funded Bill Ayers’ goals in Chicago.

Of course one might argue that Barack Obama was only one member of both the Joyce Foundation and Woods Fund boards. But clearly, the giving paints a picture of a relationship between Obama and Ayers that goes way beyond “a guy from my neighborhood.” To put it another way, if Barack Obama didn’t know who Bill Ayers was during this period, he was an extremely irresponsible board member.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Bill Ayers the radical and Bill Ayers the reformer were one and the same in the late 90′s. In March of 2000 Catalyst Magazine devoted an entire issue to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The end of their lead article quoted Bill Ayers on the results:

“I think it’s a mixed picture,” says Bill Ayers, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who worked with Chapman and Anne Hallett to pull together the original grant-writing effort.

Ayers believes Annenberg “played a big role” in fostering smaller, more intimate, less anonymous learning environments. But he says that the goal of making teaching more of a profession “is a goal yet to be realized.”

“I don’t think that’s in very good shape in Chicago right now,” he says.

Still, Ayers believes the Annenberg Challenge was good for Chicago “in the sense that it provoked and deepened our conscientiousness about some very important issues that go to the heart of lasting school improvement.

“Did it work? … It’s like asking, ‘Did American democracy work?’ It’s a work in progress. Did it work? Not yet. Not for a lot of people.”

Update 10/13: Michelle Obama organized a teach-in for her husband and Bill Ayers back in 1997. This is another “crossed path” the NY Times missed. [HT: Hill Buzz]

Word is there may be a bigger story on the connection soon. Did Bill Ayers babysit Barack’s kids? That would put a different spin on things, no?

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