Documents released Tuesday by the University of Illinois at Chicago shed some light on Barack Obama’s relationship with William Ayers, a founding member of the 1960s and 1970s radical group the Weather Underground.
Obama’s association with Ayers, who now teaches at the university, has become an issue in the Illinois senator’s presidential campaign. The Weather Underground took credit for several nonfatal bombings on targets that included the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol, and critics accuse Obama of rubbing elbows with an unabashed 1960s radical.
Obama has said that, although he knew Ayers as a professor involved in community outreach efforts in Chicago, he doesn’t share Ayers’ extreme views.
The massive collection of newly released documents — 140 boxes full of them — includes agendas that clearly put Obama and Ayers in the same room for meetings of Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an educational initiative that Ayers was instrumental in starting and that Obama chaired in the 1990s.
The initiative was funded by $49.2 million from the Annenberg Foundation with the intention of establishing community partnerships that would improve schools.
FOX News was among several news organizations that reviewed the university’s records by appointment. In one agenda, a March 15, 1995, meeting featured Obama making introductions and Ayers giving a briefing.
But more than a year later, Obama pushed the group to be bolder in its reforms, according to the Associated Press, which also reviewed the documents. Minutes from an October 1996 gathering show Obama, a guest at a meeting of the collaborative, raised questions about what the group should be doing.
The Associates Press reports the minutes characterized Obama’s concerns as twofold: Whether the group was raising additional money and whether money was being used “to prop up existing organizations as opposed to creating fresh educational practices in the schools?”
“At the end of five years, will we have broken the mold? Not much seems to be bubbling up that is inspiring or substantive,” the minutes say, paraphrasing Obama.
Even so, Stanley Kurtz, a contributing editor for the conservative magazine National Review, thinks Obama’s association with Ayers should raise questions in the mind of voters who wonder of Obama is as mainstream as he claims to be.
“The fact that Obama and Ayers were working together stems from the pretty sharp left-leaning ideology that both of them shared to some extent,” Kurtz said.
Ayers did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, is fighting a conservative group called the American Issues Project over a TV commercial that links Obama to Ayers. The campaign argues that the nonprofit group is violating federal laws regulating political ads by nonprofits.
The group filed a document with the Federal Election Commission last week identifying Texas billionaire Harold Simmons as the lone financier of the ad, contributing nearly $2.9 million to produce and air it. Simmons is a fundraiser for John McCain and was one of the major contributors to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which aired ads in 2004 against John Kerry.
The Obama campaign issued a response ad to the group’s ad, which says, “With all our problems why is John McCain talking about the ’60s trying to link Barack Obama to radical Bill Ayers? McCain knows Obama denounced Ayers’ crimes committed when Obama was just eight years old. Let’s talk about standing up for America today.”
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said if “McCain’s consultants are going to go out and make ads that are misleading about Barack Obama we are going to make sure that they are answered we have to make sure that the truth is out there and that we are answering with force.”
McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers released a statement responding to Burton that said, “It’s absurd and disingenuous for the Obama campaign to say we are running this ad. They are trying to blame us and use a straw man to take this issue off the table. If he thinks having a relationship with an unrepentant terrorist is not an issue that concerns the American people, he is deluding himself or being naive.”
Filed under: Presidentual Race 2008