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Obama Foundation Hires Billionaire’s Lawyer Amid Legal Battles

March 17, 2021, 6:43 PM

The Obama Foundation has a new general counsel in Shawn White, a former top lawyer to billionaire philanthropist and Democratic Party donor Eli Broad.

White will succeed outgoing legal chief Addar Levi whose new role as deputy general counsel at the Treasury Department was announced Tuesday, a day after former President Barack Obama’s Chicago-based nonprofit touted its addition of White to lead legal affairs, including “those related to the design, construction, and operations of the Obama Presidential Center.”

The OPC, a $500 million project, hopes to break ground this summer following prolonged delays in its construction. The 19-acre campus with views of Lake Michigan will no longer be home to the Obama presidential library, whose documents will instead be digitized under a 2019 agreement between the Obama Foundation and the National Archives and Records Administration.

In February, the Obama Foundation said it expected to start building in the second half of this year and would “begin recruiting a diverse workforce” to “help make the OPC a reality” following the completion of a four-year federal review process.

That announcement was called “grossly premature” in a statement by Chicago lawyer Herbert Caplan, president of Protect Our Parks, an organization suing the Obama Foundation as part of a years-long effort designed to shift construction of the OPC to a different site on Chicago’s South Side.

White, who will join the Obama Foundation later this month and relocate to Chicago later this year, didn’t respond to a request for comment about a position that will see her inherit the legal challenges that have prevented the OPC from breaking ground.

“I am thrilled to join at this pivotal time,” White said. “I was raised with a commitment to service, civic engagement, and educational excellence by my late mother, a lifelong public-school teacher.”

White, who began her legal career as an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York, went on to work in-house at Prudential Financial Inc., the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, record label Hartman’s House, and nonprofit the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

She will join the Obama Foundation after working since November 2019 as a Los Angeles-based general counsel for the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Broad Family Office Financial Services LLC, and the Broad Museum.

Broad, whose net worth is nearly $7 billion, is a founder of homebuilder KB Home and insurance company SunAmerica Inc. Broad’s nonprofit has given at least $1 million to the Obama Foundation, according to a public list of contributors.

Suzi Emmerling, a spokeswoman for Broad’s nonprofit, told Bloomberg Law that it has yet to name a successor for White.

Obama’s Lawyers

Obama Foundation spokeswoman Courtney Williams said that White will not be general counsel for the Obama family office. The latter didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether Levi, who was also its legal chief, will be replaced.

Levi, a former Covington & Burling associate who served as a deputy associate White House counsel in the Obama administration, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Levi joined the Obama Foundation as an associate general counsel in 2017, the same year she married William Levi, who stepped down in December as chief of staff to former U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

In 2019, Levi was promoted to replace Dana Remus, now White House counsel to President Joe Biden, as general counsel of the Obama Foundation and family office.

Levi received nearly $308,000 in total compensation from the Obama Foundation and related organizations in 2019, per the nonprofit’s most recent federal tax filing. Sidley Austin, the law firm where Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama met in 1989, received $1.8 million in legal fees from the Obama Foundation in 2019.

Williams, the Obama Foundation’s spokeswoman, declined to discuss the nonprofit’s outside or in-house legal advisers when asked to identify them by Bloomberg Law.

Public records show that aside from Sidley, other firms advising the Obama Foundation include Chicago-based Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg and Katten Muchin Rosenman, as well as Perkins Coie. Katten real estate partner Andrew Hamm spent 10 months seconded to the Obama Foundation, which he left last summer after working on the development of the OPC, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Other lawyers currently working at the Obama Foundation include deputy general counsel Mary Beth Cisneros, director of the office of CEO and corporate counsel Elisabeth Siciliano, and associate general counsel Connie Chang and Aimee Krause Stewart. David Simas, a former Obama White House lawyer who has been the nonprofit’s CEO since 2016, was paid almost $658,000 in 2019.

Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, a Yale Law School graduate and former senior adviser at BlackRock Inc., received nearly $220,000 from the Obama Foundation after becoming the nonprofit’s president in August 2019. Adeyemo, tapped by the Biden administration to be its No. 2 at Treasury, had his nomination confirmed earlier this month after a vote in the U.S. Senate.

The Obama Foundation said in December that Valerie Jarrett, an attorney and longtime Obama adviser, would step in to succeed Adeyemo on an interim basis.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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