House committee questions financial troubles of Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, foundation
The House Tourism, Hospitality & Craft Industries Committee held a hearing Nov. 13 to discuss the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum's financial troubles.
Two panels included Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation Chairman Ray McCaskey, Treasurer Sarah Phalen and CEO Carla Knorowski; and museum director Alan Lowe, historian Dr. Sam Wheeler and CFO Ed Harmeyer.
They fielded questions by the committee regarding the financial situation and the possibility of auctioning off artifacts to pay back a 2007 loan.
A member of the audience, Anthony Leone, also testified, asking the committee to make the foundation subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and audits.
State Rep. Ann M. Williams (D-Chicago) mentioned the controversy surrounding a stovepipe hat the museum purchased more than a decade ago and its authenticity, calling it, "hat gate," and asking what the Legislature could do to preserve Lincoln's legacy and amplify his voice for decades to come.
"We must ensure this treasure can thrive and grow," Williams said.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago) grilled the foundation about the board, how it is selected and why the members serve.
"If taxpayer money is used to provide a state grant to pay off the debt for the collection, how will the foundation handle the funding? Can we be assured it wouldn't be stored away and used for something else?" Ford asked. "Can we be assured the money would be only used for the collection payment?"
Knorowski assured the committee the money would only be used to pay off the debt owed for the Taper Collection.
The foundation currently owes $9.7 million for purchasing the collection in 2007, which contains nearly 1,500 items.
"Walk us through the conversations that were had when the collections were purchased," Ford said.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) asked the foundation what the top five things it does to generate revenue.
"How much do you make from direct support? What do you make from your memberships? What about lending out the items?" Ives asked."
Ives also asked if the stovepipe hat were DNA-tested and the results were never shared with the public.
"I was under the assumption it was DNA-tested," Ives said. "So it was DNA tested by the foundation and they never shared the results?"
Knorowski said the results were shared—but they were not made public.
Lowe said he was told the DNA results were inconclusive.
"In 10 years you've taken in $43 million, I'm just trying to find out how those on your board...can't figure out how to pay off debt," Ives said. "I flat out don't understand it."
State Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) asked the foundation and the museum to respond to the accusations that the money was ill-spent and squandered on salaries.
Phalen said a lot of the funds are restricted for certain events and they have a lean staff.
"We have a staff of maybe eight," Phalen said. "It's not a large staff at all."
State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said the foundation and the museum need to be more transparent.
"For me, this is about transparency," Butler said. "I hope all of you will be more transparent moving forward."
Butler said this museum is a building that needed to be built to honor Illinois' greatest president.
"What's happened over the last several months is a shame," Butler said. "Moving forward, you need to work collaboratively and we need to come up with solutions that work. I don't know if you're going to get state funding--I'm not the governor. I don't hold the gavel. I have a hard time going to bat for state funding in the current environment."
Ives previously told DuPage Policy Journal that the foundation was a drain on the library and museum.
Ives filed legislation in September in an attempt to make the museum subject to the Open Meetings Act and FOIA. The House heard the first reading of House Bill 5958 on Nov. 7.