Lincoln Foundation's finances could face multiple inquiries
The secretive and costly operating style of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation (ALPLF) is expected to be the subject of a hearing by the House Tourism Committee during November’s veto session in Springfield.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), alerted to the foundation's troubles by a board member, has joined other leaders who cite the following reasons for a thorough public investigation: the foundation's $9.7 million debt, which could lead it to sell off thousands of Lincoln artifacts, high staff salaries and cozy financial arrangements.
The foundation has become a drain on the very institution, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, that it was established to support, Ives told DuPage Policy Journal.
“That foundation is siphoning off bookstore profits, rental profits, leasing arrangement profits and selling memberships as well. And so we need some accountability with the money they collect," Ives said.
Ives filed legislation (HB 5958) that makes the foundation subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act laws.
Doing so would disclose all the foundation’s financial records and meetings to the public, she said.
Separately, a member of the Illinois Legislative Audit Commission recently announced that he is seeking to get the Illinois Auditor General to review the operations of the foundation.
“An audit might help us understand deficiencies in the current structure that could be addressed through changes in state law,” state Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) told Illinois News Network.
Most of the recent attention on the foundation has centered on its planned auction of some 1,400 Lincoln artifacts it bought in 2007 for $25 million – nearly all of it with borrowed money.
One item is a $6.5 million stovepipe hat, whose authenticity has been questioned; it may have never been on Lincoln’s head.
Overall, the foundation still owes over $9.7 million on $23 million it borrowed to buy the collection. Proceeds from the auction would go to pay down that debt.
The foundation has approached both the General Assembly and the Rauner Administration for funds. Legislation was introduced in May to have taxpayers cover the debt. No action was taken on the bill.
Recently, the director of the Lincoln Library and Museum, Alan Lowe, announced that he dissolved a $25,000 a year consulting deal with the foundation. He told the Associated Press that friction over attempts to verify the authenticity of the hat played a part in his severing ties.
There are other issues. Ives noted that the salary for foundation staff runs over $800,000 for the eight full-time positions listed on its website. The executive director makes $240,000 a year. And in a conflict of interest, the foundation indebted itself by making a loan agreement with a bank where two board members have affiliations.
“A lot of unanswered questions remain about how the ALPLF has managed their funds and how they intend to pay off their debt,” Ives said.
A committee hearing into foundation finances originally was scheduled for Oct. 12, but was delayed; the veto session is scheduled to run Nov. 13-15 and Nov. 27-29.