George W. Bush has often said that historians will vindicate his presidency. And since he left office, he's been moving fast to give them the tools.
Longtime financial backers of the 43rd President have raised more than $100 million for a presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas that will house his official papers, sources close to Bush told TIME. Much of the money was collected in the 100 days or so since Bush left the White House, a pace much faster than that of his recent predecessors. At least so far, none of it has come from overseas, the sources said. (See pictures of George W. Bush as President.)
The Bush fundraising effort, compared with that of his predecessor, is off to a brisk start. Bill Clinton's library planners had hoped to receive pledges of $100 million within a year of the end of his presidency, but a pardons scandal delayed that achievement for another year, said Skip Rutherford, who chaired the Clinton library committee.
Unburdened by campaign finance regulations, former Presidents traditionally raise money for their libraries the old-fashioned way: by meeting or calling a few dozen very wealthy benefactors and asking for large sums, often on the order of $5 million to $10 million each.
The Bush effort involves that approach, sources said, but in other ways is organized much like a modern political campaign. A national finance committee has been created with 100 co-chairs placed in every state. Some of Bush's oldest and biggest financial backers form a board of directors for the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, chaired by former Bush Commerce Secretary and Texas oilman Donald L. Evans. Members include Los Angeles investment banker Brad Freeman; Dallas hotel developer and former Bush ambassador to Costa Rica Mark Langdale; and Cincinnati-based businessman and Bush ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Mercer Reynolds.
Foundation president Langdale said names of contributors will not be released because some donors prefer anonymity. He also would not disclose the exact total raised thus far. But other sources reported commitments totaling more than a third of the $300 million projected for the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include a museum and research institute to be built on a 25-acre parcel of SMU.
Along with writing a memoir something Bush has also begun in recent months financing and building a suitable presidential library has been the initial focus of nearly every President who left the White House since Harry Truman. The historically fast pace of Bush's fundraising has been all the more remarkable for taking place during a period of economic contraction. "He's struck a very positive nerve among a lot of financial sources across the country," said J. French Hill, a Little Rock banker and major Bush campaign bundler who leads the fundraising effort in Arkansas.
Groundbreaking for the library is set for November of next year; organizers hope to dedicate and open the doors in early 2013.
Langdale said the Bush center will not be used to "defend or promote something that he did in the past" but will offer a record to help future generations learn about what happened during a presidency, so they make better decisions." "History will judge," he said.