James L. (Skip) Rutherford is William J. Clinton Professor and Dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service (May 2006-present). Rutherford is past chairman (1997-2006) of the nonprofit William J. Clinton Foundation, which oversaw construction of the Clinton Presidential Center. The original Foundation fundraising goal for the Library was $80-100 million dollars. The cost of the project eventually swelled to $165 million. Kane Webb in a Wall Street Journal story called Rutherford "the master builder Hemon to Bill Clinton's pharaoh Cheops."
Rutherford championed the location of the Library to potential donors by noting its proximity to convention hotel space, restaurants, shops. He is quoted as having taken great pride that Foundation efforts had "broken the barrier of the interstate [I-30] ... [and] led the effort to reclaim a blighted, neglected area and to turn it into a showplace." He has also been quoted as saying that having the main library of the Central Arkansas Library System only a few blocks away was "a major factor in determining the site for the Clinton Library in downtown Little Rock."
In response to Bill Clinton's frequent requests for information about the status of construction on the library complex, Rutherford had his staff install a ClintonCam webcam that was available 24/7. Rutherford also dreamed up the "Bill Clinton Collection," a CD full of Clinton's favorite music made available at Little Rock's Clinton Museum Store and on the store's Web site.
Rutherford became embroiled in the dispute with landowner Eugene Pfeifer III over the site of the Clinton presidential library complex beginning in November 2000. He also became involved in the court struggle over an estimated $1.2 to 3 million dollar economic-development tax break for the Clinton Library. The economic-development tax break became the preferred mechanism for city purchase of the land for the Clinton Center after a proposed hamburger tax measure was defeated. Said Rutherford at a 2001 leadership forum, "Controversy for presidential libraries is a gold mine. "It's the dull libraries that have trouble."
Rutherford was subpoenaed in February 2001 by the Burton House Committee on Government Reform, which was investigating possible links between Foundation fund-raising efforts and the pardon of fugitive Marc Rich, wanted on charges of tax evasion. Rich's ex-wife Denise Rich donated $450,000 to the library foundation in three installments between July 1998 and May 2000. The Clinton Foundation refused to turn over the subpoenaed files, which would include records of donors and amounts. Rutherford argued that such records "have always been private."
He is an executive vice president with Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods (CJRW), one of the state's largest advertising firms. Rutherford is also a former administrative assistant to Democratic U.S. Senator David Pryor, and past president of the Little Rock School Board.
Rutherford graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a degree in journalism in 1972, and is recipient of that department's first Distinguished Alumnus Award. He has served as coordinator of the 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1957 Little Rock Crisis at Central High School, and of dedication ceremonies for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Rutherford also served as the first advisory board president of the Arkansas School for Mathematics and Science (ASMS).
Rutherford has been a visiting professor at Lyon College, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the University of Central Arkansas, and University of the Ozarks in Clarksville. At Lyon College Rutherford's class studied Arkansas political campaigns from 1958 to 1993, interviewed politicians, and donated oral history tapes and other ephemera to the Butler Center of the Little Rock Public Library.
He is on the Board of Directors for Lyon College and the Arkansas Children's Hospital. He is a founding member of the Little Rock Central High Museum and Visitor Center Board. He is the founder of the Political Animals Club, a non-partisan grassroots organization of community leaders and activists who meet regularly to discuss politics and issues.
Rutherford has been a close friend of the president for over thirty years. The two became friends while watching their daughters play softball together as children. He notes that the relationship was often taxing. "Given my over-25-year friendship with him, why would I expect it to be easy?" he explained in one interview. "It's like the movie 'Jaws.' Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water." Rutherford has also recalled telling Clinton in 1991 when he was still Arkansas governor that a presidential run was the "silliest, worst idea I had ever heard in my life. ... You don't have a chance." Clinton has said of Rutherford that he "alternates between looking like a wallflower who doesn't want any credit to being the biggest huckster since Barnum and Bailey."
For his work in making the Clinton Library complex a reality Rutherford was in 2004 named Arkansan of the Year by the Arkansas Times newspaper and Headliner of the Year by the Arkansas Press Association. He was named 2005 Arkansan of the Year by the Arkansas Broadcasters Association. He is the recipient of the Rotary Club's Sid Brooks Fellowship in November 2005. He was honored as 2006 Tourism Person of the Year by the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. He also received the William F. Rector Memorial Award for distinguished civic achievement in Little Rock and the Raymond L. Garner Alumnus of the Year Award from the Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity.
- Jay Harrod and Kerry Kraus, "Capital Improvements: A Look at Little Rock's Past and Future Downtown Revitalization Efforts," Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, April 9, 2002.
- Suzi Parker, "Divulging Donors of Clinton Library: A Bad Precedent?" Christian Science Monitor 93 no. 63 (February 26, 2001): 1-2.
- Kevin Sack, "Pardon is Trouble for Clinton Library," New York Times, February 18, 2001.
- Kane Webb, "A Big Deal in Little Rock," Wall Street Journal, November 17, 2004.