Jeff Bezos gives Obama Foundation $100M, names plaza in honor of late Congressman John Lewis
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is giving $100 million to the Obama Foundation, the organization that’s building the former president’s library — called the Obama Presidential Center — and that has multiple programs supporting up-and-coming leaders worldwide.
The gift is the largest individual donation made to the foundation, and affords Bezos the opportunity to name one of the features of the center. He has asked for the center’s plaza to be called the John Lewis Plaza, in honor of the congressman and civil rights activist who died last year.
The news was announced Monday.
“Freedom fighters deserve a special place in the pantheon of heroes, and I can’t think of a more fitting person to honor with this gift than John Lewis, a great American leader and a man of extraordinary decency and courage,” Bezos said in a statement from the Obama Foundation. “I’m thrilled to support President and Mrs. Obama and their Foundation in its mission to train and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.”
Bezos, who stepped down as CEO of Amazon in July, has in recent years been building more of a presence in national politics. In 2013 he bought The Washington Post, and three years later he purchased a property in a swanky Washington, D.C., neighborhood that he converted into a residence. At a January 2020 party at the D.C. mansion, the guests included Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Sen. Mitt Romney, and some of former President Trump’s inner circle, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Kellyanne Conway, according to Politico.
In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Bezos was critical of Trump, saying that his rhetoric “erodes our democracy” and he offered to send him into space on one of his Blue Origin rockets.
The news site Puck first reported the gift, noting that Jay Carney, Amazon’s senior vice president of global corporate affairs and former Obama press secretary, helped shepherd the donation.
Bezos and Obama are not close, but “have seen each other socially from time to time,” Valerie Jarrett, Obama Foundation CEO, told Puck.
Bezos, who has a net worth of approximately $200 billion, has been stepping up his philanthropy after years of limited giving. In 2018 he created the $2 billion Bezos Day One Fund to support people experiencing homelessness and fund early education. In 2020 he launched the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund.
Officials with the Obama Foundation called out the significance of Bezos naming the plaza for Lewis, rather than himself, which is often the case when naming rights are given.
“With the gift from Bezos, the Foundation is seeking to change the paradigm around naming public spaces within the Center, using it as an opportunity to give donors the option to honor and elevate the names of those who have fought for a more just and equitable world,” read the statement from the center.
Construction on the Chicago-based center began in September and is expected to be completed by 2025. Bezos’ gift was unrestricted and can be used for any of the organization’s programming.