Future donations to presidential libraries would have to be publicly disclosed, the House decided Wednesday.
The library vote and a separate one making it more difficult for former presidents to prevent documents from entering the public domain kicked off a new session of Congress. Majority Democrats have joined with President-elect Barack Obama in promising to make government operations more transparent. Both bills now go to the Senate.
The library measure would require that groups raising funds for presidential libraries make disclosures four times a year of all donations of $200 or more.
The bill is not retroactive and this would not apply to the library that President George W. Bush has planned for the Southern Methodist University campus in Texas. It would cover donations made to library foundations during the time a president is in office and the period before the National Archives agrees to use the land or the facility.
The presidential library system began when President Franklin D. Roosevelt donated his presidential papers to the federal government. Under the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act, the National Archives takes over operations once the library is constructed.
The House has made several attempts this decade to move the legislation. Republicans promoted it at the end of the Clinton administration after it was revealed that Clinton's library foundation received a large contribution from the ex-wife of financier Marc Rich. Rich fled the country after being convicted of evading $40 million in taxes and then received a presidential pardon on the last day Clinton was in office.
Corporations and foreign nations are also major donors to presidential libraries.
Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said there was "enormous potential for abuse" from the current lack of disclosure. He said the Clinton library in Little Rock, Ark., cost an estimated $165 million and the Bush library is expected to cost considerably more.
The House passed an identical bill last year, but the Senate did not act.
The documents bill would overturn an executive order issued by Bush in November 2001. It gave presidents and former presidents the ability to delay public release of records for years. The order also states that only presidents and former presidents, not former vice presidents or the descendants of presidents, can assert privilege over records.
A former president would have the right to assert privilege over records, but the sitting president or a court would have to agree before the documents could be withheld from the public.
The vote on the documents bill, H.R. 35, was 359-58. The vote on the libraries bill, H.R. 36, was 388-31.