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Who Should Get Obama's Nobel Prize Money?

(AP Photo/Torbjorn Gronning)
President Obama will accept the Nobel Peace Prize In Oslo Thursday – an award that comes with roughly $1.4 million.

His speech will be closely watched, in large part because it marks the odd circumstance of a war president accepting a peace prize. Mr. Obama is accepting the Nobel just a week after he announced his decision to add 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, effectively recommitting the United States to a war that began more than eight years ago.

He plans to address the irony in the speech, which he is drafting himself. Norwegian peace activists have planned protests in conjunction with the address.

But there is another noteworthy issue tied to the president accepting the prize: namely, where will all that money go?

In October, shortly after the surprise announcement that the award would go to Mr. Obama, the White House said the president would donate the $1.4 million to charity.

"He mentioned specifically to me on Friday that the money would be donated to charity," spokesman Robert Gibbs said then. "There will be a process to evaluate that from his perspective. I assume it will be many different charities."

Since then, however, the White House has repeatedly declined to make clear which charity or charities might get the money. Wednesday morning Gibbs again said there has not yet been a decision.

Under the law, Mr. Obama can designate a charity or charities to receive the money and avoid any tax liability. There could be a complication to this, however, as's Declan McCullagh noted last month: The Peace Prize is closely linked to the Norwegian government, and the U.S. Constitution limits gifts to government officials from any "foreign state." The White House has argued that the prize doesn't come from a "foreign state," even though members of the Nobel committee are current or former government officials.

Teddy Roosevelt won the prize but still asked Congress for permission to distribute the money to charity, and some lawmakers want Mr. Obama to follow suit.

It appears, however, that the White House is making its decision unilaterally. The politics of who to select are somewhat dicey, since the award will justifiably be taken as an endorsement. (As a reporter joked to Gibbs in October, "I assume we can rule out ACORN as a recipient?")

There are three large charities that seem like obvious potential recipients: The Red Cross, Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity. All three are widely beloved, though their roots as religious organizations could complicate the calculus. Habitat, which is dedicated to building "simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need," may be the best fit for a president trying to stress Americans rebuilding in the wake of the financial crisis. Mr. Obama also recently participated in a public service announcement for the United Way.

Last year the Obamas donated $172,050, or 6.5 percent of their income, to charity, according to White House figures. A tiny percentage went to faith-based groups; the biggest recipients were CARE, which fights global poverty, and the United Negro College Fund, which both received $25,000.

"Given the nature of the prize – it is a recognition of the work he is doing to ensure global peace – I would suspect that the donations will go to organizations very specifically involved in work to provide to bring peace around the world," United Negro College Fund President & Chief Executive Officer Michael L. Lomax told He said he would be "pleasantly surprised" if his organization were a beneficiary.

There is a potential awkwardness to Mr. Obama giving the money to an organization that works to "bring peace around the world," however – that group may not be too happy with the president's decision to increase the troop presence in Afghanistan. To give the money to a group whose leader opposes Mr. Obama's efforts would be a public relations problem for a White House looking to win skeptical Democrats over to its new Afghanistan strategy.

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