In the closing years of President Barack Obama’s presidency, the Obama Foundation was formed to press for liberal projects and oversee the design and construction in Chicago of the Obama Presidential Center, with a tentative opening date in 2021 and estimated cost of $500 million. The facility will include a library, a museum to focus on Obama’s presidency, and space for programs that fit with the foundation’s mission.
The Obama Foundation was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2014. The Foundation has been criticized for accepting donations from groups that Obama criticized during his presidency, as well as complaints from residents who live near the future site of the center about the effects of the construction.
As he was leaving the Oval Office, Obama joined his wife, Michelle, in a video imploring Americans to contribute ideas to his foundation, calling it a “living, working center for citizenship.” Part of the foundation’s stated mission is developing “what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century.”
As plans for the Obama Presidential Center became clearer, some citizens expressed their displeasure. Residents who live near Jackson Park, the future site for the center, voiced their concerns at a planning meeting in July 2017, critiquing ideas on closing roads, moving some natural areas, and determining how to provide economic benefit to surrounding neighborhoods.
The plan to close Cornell Drive, a busy thoroughfare connecting South Lake Shore Drive to the Chicago Skyway, to create five acres of park space around the presidential center also proved controversial.
Robbin Cohen serves as executive director, one of four full-time employees on the payroll who each earn six figures in total compensation. The organization’s IRS 990 form for 2015 reveals that Cohen received $253,150 in total compensation, while operations manager Justin Rosenthal was paid $136,885, external affairs manager Jamison Citron received $144,522, and director of accounting and administration Jonabel Russette made $136,352.
Cohen previously served as president of Pritzker Realty Group, a division of PSP Capital Partners LLC, a Chicago investment firm founded by Penny Prtizker, who served as commerce secretary under Obama and is a member of Illinois’ powerful Pritzker political family.
Martin Nesbitt serves as the chairman of the foundation’s board of directors. The longtime Obama friend served as national treasurer during his two presidential campaigns. Nesbitt also co-founded the private equity firm The Vistria Group. 
The Obama Foundation’s IRS 990 form for 2015 showed revenues of $1,916,247 and expenses of $2,820,908. 
The organization reported spending nearly $1 million on legal, consulting and marketing in 2014 on that form. Beneficiaries of that spending include the law firm Katten Muchin Roseman LLP with $296,759, marketing firm Blue State Digital with $272,879, marketing firm SKDKnickerbocker with $182,865, and consultants Peter Edward Arendt LLC with $150,000.
The foundation released an updated donor list in July 2017 that revealed eight donors had given more than $1 million each, and another two dozen gave between $10,000 and $100,000. Those donors included venture capitalist John Doerr (who also serves on the board of directors), LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and Zumiez founder Tom Campion. 
The foundation’s donor list only provides a range of numbers for each donation rather than the exact amount, leading columnist Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times to decry the practice as “(obfuscating) the amount and (confusing) readers.”
Sweet pointed out that jumbo donations from those with deep pockets is the preferred method of fundraising for such facilities and noted it hadn’t been stated yet if corporate signage or naming rights to parts of the presidential center might be tied to the gifts.
An unnamed official with the foundation told the Sun-Times that the organization was no longer imposing self-restrictive measures on fundraising amounts after Obama left the White House.
The Obama Foundation reported raising $233 million in 2017, nearly 95 percent of which came from individuals. Ann and John Doerr, the former an investor and Obama Foundation board member, were contributors. Mary and Jeffrey Zients, the latter a former director of the National Economic Council during the Obama administration, were also top donors.