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University to release Obama records

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PETE YOST | August 22, 2008 10:09 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — The University of Illinois at Chicago said Friday it is releasing records of Barack Obama's service to a nonprofit organization linked to former 1960s radical William Ayers.

Supporters of John McCain have been trying to exploit the tie between Obama and Ayers, with a McCain fundraiser donating nearly $2.9 million for an independent ad focusing on Ayers. Ayers' Weatherman group took credit for bombings that included nonfatal blasts at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol four decades ago.

The records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an organization that Obama chaired and that Ayers co-founded, will be made available to the public Tuesday, UIC said in a statement.

On Monday, National Review magazine posted an online article saying the university had initially declared that the records were open to inspection but that the university subsequently reversed its position.

On Tuesday, the university said that there had been a misunderstanding about the status of the collection.

The unidentified donor of the records notified the university about the absence of a signed ownership agreement last week.

The donor's only concerns regarding the collection are due to personal information that could include names, confidential salary information and even Social Security numbers, a university spokesman said at the time.

In its latest statement, the institution said that it now has legal authority to allow public access to the material.

In the 1990s, Ayers was instrumental in starting the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which was awarded nearly $50 million by a foundation to help reform Chicago schools. Ayers is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Obama and Ayers have other ties.

Ayers held a meet-the-candidate event at his home for Obama when Obama first ran for office in the mid-1990s. Ayers and Obama live in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.

Ayers and Obama served together on the board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago-based charity that develops community groups to help the poor. Obama left the board in December 2002.

The new ad sponsored by American Issues Project says that Obama and Ayers served together "on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?"

According to documents filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission, the ad is being financed by Harold Simmons, a billionaire financier from Texas, who is listed as one of 235 fundraisers who raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for McCain's presidential campaign.

Simmons also was one of the top contributors to Swift Boat Veterans and POWS for Truth, the group that aired ads questioning 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's service in Vietnam. Democrats have blamed those ads for helping George W. Bush defeat Kerry.

Simmons donated $3 million to the Swift Boat group.

One of the board members at American Issues Project, Ed Failor Jr., was a paid consultant for McCain's campaign in Iowa last year.

In April, Obama said he "deplored" Ayers' actions in the 1960s and that "by the time I met him, he is a professor of education at the University of Illinois. We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education."

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Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.