Barack Obama Records Sealed at Illinois

Mark Silva, The Swamp, August 20, 2008

The University of Illinois has refused to release records related to Sen. Barack Obama’s service for a nonprofit educational project that put him in contact with activist William Ayers, a 1960s-era radical and now education professor.

The university’s Chicago campus maintains that the donor of the records that document the work of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge has not handed over ownership rights. {snip} The university has not identified the donor.


Ayers is an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In his youth, he co-founded the Weatherman organization, later known as the Weather Underground Organization, which espoused violence in the pursuit of political change.

In the 1990s, Ayers was instrumental in starting the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which was awarded nearly $50 million by a foundation to help reform Chicago schools. Obama was the first chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, and Republicans have been attempting to underscore his ties to Ayers.


Obama served as board chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge for three years starting in 1995 and remained on the board until the project closed in 2001. The $49.2 million was the largest private gift ever made to Chicago schools. The money went to 250 schools.

{snip} Sen. Barack Obama served on the Annenberg board of directors from 1995 until the project ended in 2001, spending three years as its first chairman. It was on the broad of the Annenberg Challenge where Sen. Obama served with the notorious former head of the 1960’s radical group, William Ayers. The Annenberg Challenge was founded by Ayers and was responsible for administering a private grant of nearly $50 million to Chicago public schools.

{snip} But the Daley library has refused, after initially agreeing to make the records public, claiming that the donor of the material has not given permission for the records to be viewed by the press. The documents could shed more light on the relationship between Obama and Ayers. Obama is known to have visited Ayers’ home at least once, attending a fund raiser there; and is believed to have gotten his start in Chicago politics in part with Ayers’ blessing.


The Obama campaign has said in the past that Obama and Ayers were “friendly,” implying a past relationship. Daley’s comment indicates that the two remain friends.

If the records indicate a deeper or an ongoing relationship between Obama and Ayers, it would be a major problem for the Obama campaign. Ayers and the Weather Underground are responsible for a spate of terrorist bombings in the waning days of the Vietnam War, including against the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. Ayers was never convicted in connection to the bombings, his case was thrown out on an evidence gathering technicality, and he has never publicly repented for his alleged actions. As recently as September 11, 2001, in an op-ed published by the New York Times, Ayers said that he did not regret setting the bombs. “I don’t think we did enough,” he said.


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