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Obama looks beyond his presidency, hopes to avoid Clinton comparisons

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The president has increasingly focused on the plight of urban communities in his second term, voicing frustrations that Washington talks about the problem only after high-profile events. (AP Photo) 

President Obama provided a preview of his post-presidential plans Monday, unveiling a nonprofit designed to expand upon his administration's work of fostering upward mobility for young, minority men.

But the announcement also gave a glimpse of potential landmines Obama will face in his pursuit of a post-presidential legacy, a delicate balancing act between ambition and big money that has been magnified in the wake of the controversy over donations to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Obama spoke in grand terms of the My Brother's Keeper Alliance, a group that will rely on sizable donations to help young men of color prepare for the job market. Obama pledged to play a role in the group's efforts after he leaves 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

"This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life," Obama said at an event in New York. "Today is just the beginning."

What the administration will also have to showcase in the president's final year and a half in office is that Obama's actions as commander in chief are in no way influenced by donations to an initiative that is closely associated with him.

The Clintons have struggled to pass such a test, laboring to explain why donations to their charities from foreign governments were not disclosed and whether it was inappropriate for Bill Clinton to receive such hefty speaking fees from overseas interests while his wife served as the nation's top diplomat.

Team Obama has already encountered a wave of questions about just how the president will ensure the same shortcomings are not repeated, queries the White House will not soon put to rest without a more detailed accounting of the nonprofit's plans.

The White House on Monday suggested that the corporate titans and celebrities serving on the board, including former National Basketball Association player Alonzo Mourning and singer John Legend, would determine the rules for those allowed to give money to the nonprofit.

As the Clinton scandal rages on, the most consequential decision will be whether foreign governments or lobbyists can donate, government watchdogs said.

"This is something that board members of the alliance will have to determine, but I'm confident that the members of the board are well aware of the president's commitment to transparency," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday of the nonprofit. "The Obama administration will have no role in deciding how donations are screened and what criteria they'll set at the alliance for donor policies because it's an entirely separate entity."

Obama first created My Brother's Keeper in the wake of the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, declaring that too many young men in predominantly minority communities were getting left behind.

Joe Echevarria, the former Deloitte LLP chief executive officer, will run the latest incarnation of such efforts. The White House says the group has already received financial commitments of $80 million from major American businesses.

Obama, who launched his professional career as a community organizer, has already suggested that he will to return to his roots in some capacity. The president has increasingly focused on the plight of urban communities in his second term, voicing frustrations that Washington talks about the problem only after high-profile events, such as the riots in Baltimore or the racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

"People tweet outrage, and the TV cameras come, and they focus more on somebody setting fire to something or turning over a car than the peaceful protests and the thoughtful discussions that are taking place," Obama lamented on Monday. "And then we wait for the next outbreak or problem to flare up, and we go through the same pattern all over again, so that in effect, we do nothing."

Some of those close to Obama said the president views the expansion of My Brother's Keeper as a vehicle to move forward on the work that government has been unwilling to do.

But even they say both the president and those running the new nonprofit need to establish a blueprint to avoid the headaches the Clintons are now experiencing.

"When I think of the causes the president is most passionate about, this is at the top of the list," a former senior administration official told the Washington Examiner of My Brother's Keeper. "It's because it's so personal. He sees himself in these young men. That's why I think you're seeing this as the first sign of what he's going to do further down the road."

When asked if the president could take any lessons from the controversy engulfing the Clintons, the former White House official quipped, "Yeah, do basically the opposite of everything they're doing right now."