Washington, DC, (Washington Post) – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has joined celebrities and tech giants in donating a combined $100 million to the Obama Foundation, co-chairing a task force that will guide the future of the school, book-focused media arm and institution that bears former President Barack Obama’s name.
Bezos’s gift and an earlier $50 million donation from Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg total the largest contribution to the Obama Foundation so far, according to those familiar with the organization’s operations. By comparison, philanthropists from Microsoft, Google and Verizon have contributed a combined $25 million to the organization, according to the foundation’s most recent public disclosure report.
Bezos and Sandberg have been named co-chairs of the task force, which also includes Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Obama’s Education secretary, John King.
Their contribution comes a week after Obama and former President Bill Clinton announced a $1.5 billion gift to the Clinton Foundation, the non-profit organizations both foundations lead. Clinton said in a memo to employees that the Clinton Foundation would focus on early childhood education and economic development.
Obama has maintained close ties to the liberal groups that helped fuel his campaigns, including Priorities USA Action and the Center for American Progress. At an October 30 event in Washington, organizers for the group announced an agreement to spend $1.5 billion on public policy, federal politics and congressional campaigns in 2020.
Representatives for the foundation and Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Bezos, who owns the world’s most valuable company, and Obama are amiable enough but could not be more different in politics and business. Obama, a former community organizer, and Bezos, who once fought to sell online copies of his novel “The Conscience of a Liberal,” have both built massive wealth from knowledge and information-based businesses. Bezos, in fact, once joked about buying a book the size of a book.
Bezos gave to the Obama Foundation as part of an endowment with the company’s 2017 annual report, which gave him a total of $87.5 million.
Bezos’s donation comes on the heels of the largest political contribution from a tech entrepreneur ever, when Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen committed $400 million to the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports abortion rights. Allen told the Washington Post in an interview that his donation was driven in part by a shared sense of shared values.
Bezos is donating the money to the Obama Foundation as a non-voting member of the board of directors, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Bezos and Sandberg’s support for the Obama Foundation comes two years after Amazon first picked Chicago as its second North American headquarters and backed a $2.7 billion plan to build a campus there, establishing its roots in the Windy City. The company also donated $10 million to Chicago Public Schools in 2017 to help fund new computers for the district’s teachers.
Bezos’s decision to donate money to the Obama Foundation, in spite of the ongoing controversy around the location of Amazon’s second headquarters, highlights his commitment to Chicago. Amazon staff and Amazon executives have donated millions of dollars to local Democratic candidates, such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom Bezos hired as his second in command.
But it also highlights another awkward relationship between Bezos and Obama: Bezos, who’s been a supporter of abortion rights, used to give to Planned Parenthood, a political opponent of the Obama administration and other liberal organizations. In 2015, Amazon pledged to match Bezos’s $10,000 donation to the pro-choice group to the value of $100,000, promising to raise $5 million for Planned Parenthood.