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Obama, Ayers, and the Annenberg Challenge Cover-Up

Blogger Steve Diamond pointed out a very close tie between Obama and Ayers through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. At a White House event with Bill Clinton, philanthropist Walter Annenberg announced that he was making a $500 million grant to cities across the nation to put towards public school reform. Bill Ayers led the group that brought $49.2 million to Chicago and formed the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The kick-off in January 1995 was attended by the governor of Illinois and the mayor of Chicago, as well as many other luminaries. The first chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge was Barack Obama, a post he held until 1999 when he stepped down and remained on the board. Bill Ayers worked closely with the Challenge as a leader of the newly-formed Chicago School Reform Collaborative.

That is a relationship that goes well beyond "a guy who lives in my neighborhood." And there is a possibility the relationship began long before 1995. In 1987 there was a push for school reform in Chicago. Thomas Ayers was a leader of the ABCs Coalition which was coordinated by his son, Bill Ayers. One member of the coalition was the Developing Communities Project, headed up by Barack Obama before he left for Harvard.

Obama has not been forthcoming about this. And the latest development in the news concerns the archives of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, currently housed at the Richard J. Daley Library of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mr. Kurtz was originally granted permission to review the archives, which might shed a great deal of light on the extent of the interaction and working relationship between Messrs. Obama and Ayers. However, the donor, whose identity the library will not reveal, has not granted permission for the public to have access to these documents; the library claims to be negotiating their release post-haste.

The McCain campaign team has highlighted this puzzle in a recent press release, which should create some media attention.

Obama has been concealing and misleading the voters about his relationship with Ayers, and someone is keeping the lid on these documents. So again, why the cover-up?

Without knowing the extent of the relationship, it is impossible to be certain why Obama is concealing it. At a minimum, I would guess that he would prefer not to explain to middle America why he chose to have a longtime association with a domestic terrorist and hard left radical. It is also a probable source of embarrassment that the Chicago Annenberg Challenge was viewed as a failure. Obama does not have much executive experience on his resume and education reform is a topic near and dear to many voter's hearts. Since Obama's career in education reform amounts to hanging with a radical leftist terrorist and accomplishing nothing, he might well prefer to conceal this and discuss something else.

But it is possible there is more to hide. The tax returns of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge are available (1998, 1999) and include disbursements made by the group, so if Chairman Barack was funneling money to absurd left wing projects the public would soon find out. But what if Ayers advocated some now-embarrassing left-wing proposal supported by Obama but rejected by the full board? Since it was never funded, that moment of awkwardness would show up in the currently-concealed board minutes but not the tax returns. Steve Diamond noted that an early disbursement of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge was to a group led by former student radical Mike Klonsky. Is No Radical Left Behind the sort of Hope and Change on which Obama wants to campaign?

More probably, the board minutes may simply detail a close relationship between Ayers and Obama. Steve Diamond obtained related records from Brown University and confirms that Ayers made presentations to the board while Barack chaired it, so we can be sure they worked together. And tagging Ayers as an unapologetic left-wing radical is easy. For example, his speech to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela in 2006 explained the importance of education reform: "We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution" or "La educacion es revolucion!".

We will see whether Obama can keep these secrets through November.