The Conversation

Barack Obama Helped Fund Bill Ayers' Vision for Chicago Schools

Bill Ayers had been in the news again lately after agreeing to be interviewed by Fox's Megyn Kelly this week. This brings up one of the most contested issues from the 2008 race when Democrats insisted Obama had only a passing familiarity with former domestic terrorist Ayers and Republicans insisted there was more to it. You can see the most recent example of this ongoing debate in the clip below.

While Republicans and Democrats have argued endlessly about Ayers and Obama's personal relationship, few have mentioned the clear financial relationship between the two men. Back in 2008 I was able to document nearly $2 million dollars in grants directed to Bill Ayers' Small Schools Workshop from boards on which Barack Obama sat, including the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the Joyce Foundation and the Woods Fund. Here's an example of what I found:

  • 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.”
There's much more like that listed here. As you can see, those same foundations directed just over $750,000 to an educational organization run by Ayers' brother. Finally, there was a separate $1.5 million grant to redesign Chicago high schools along the lines being promoted by Ayers' organization. It's not a stretch to say that Obama helped fund Bill Ayers' vision for Chicago area schools. As I wrote back in 2008:

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.

It might be believable that Obama and Ayers relationship was limited to promoting improvement in education. But it surely strains credibility that someone who helped direct this much money to Ayers' projects over a period of six years and who apparently shared office space with him for three of those years, didn't know him very well. Bill Ayers was not just another guy from the neighborhood, nor was he just another one of 10,000 people Obama knew (as Ayers claims below). In fact Obama was possibly Ayers' biggest patron.


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