Big money

Foundation raised millions but still short

 The nonprofit foundation that says it might have to sell artifacts related to Abraham Lincoln has taken in more than $40 million since 2007, when the group borrowed $23 million to purchase relics held, but not owned, by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation says that it still owes $9.7 million to a bank with ties to a foundation board member. According to documents filed with the secretary of state by the lender, items in the so-called Taper Collection, including bloody gloves that Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater, a page from a sum book that includes his earliest known writings and a stovepipe hat purportedly once owned by the Great Emancipator, cannot be transferred or encumbered except as permitted by the loan agreement between the bank and the foundation. According to the public filings, the foundation’s rights to operate the museum’s gift store and restaurant facilities also cannot be encumbered or transferred except as permitted by the loan agreement. Asked via email whether rights to operate the gift shop and restaurant restricted under terms of the foundation’s agreement with the bank could reduce the need to sell artifacts, foundation officials answered no.

The foundation earlier this month launched a page pleading for donations. Donors during the first week contributed nearly $7,000. At the rate of $1,000 per day, it will take more than 26 years to retire the debt, assuming no interest. The note comes due in October of next year, according to the foundation.

Nearly 100 Lincoln artifacts deemed duplicative to relics in the museum’s collection already have been sold, according to the foundation. The deal to buy the Taper collection was a take-it-or-leave-it purchase that included items such as a bust of Carl Sandburg and a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe that have no connection to Lincoln. The foundation has confirmed that the dress and bust are scheduled for auction.

The foundation purchased the collection from Louise Taper, a board member who did not vote on the purchase, and the note is held by Lake Forest Bank and Trust, which is a subsidiary of Wintrust, a corporation where T. Tolbert Chisum, a foundation board member, holds the position of managing director of business development. Two foundation board members were also on the board of the defunct Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which once ran the museum, when the sale was consummated in 2007.

Between 2007, when the foundation purchased the collection, and July 1 of last year, the foundation collected $40.7 million in revenue while paring the debt by $13 million, according to the foundation’s annual filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Revenue during the year that ended June 30, 2017 totaled $3.6 million, expenses were $3.1 million and net assets totaled $22.5 million, according to the foundation’s most recent IRS filing.

The foundation, which had nine employees, spent no money on professional fundraisers during the year that ended June 30, 2017, but travel, salaries, advertising and other expenses related to fundraising totaled more than $550,000, according to the IRS filing. Carla Knorowski, the executive director, was paid more than $256,000 in salary and benefits. By contrast, ALPLM director Alan Lowe was paid $175,000 for his state job last year.

Foundation officials did not answer specific questions about finances submitted via email, including queries asking for details on fundraising expenses and explanations for why, given revenue levels and assets reported to the IRS, the debt for the Taper Collection has not been retired more quickly. Officials did write via email that the foundation holds approximately $5 million in reserve to pay down the Taper loan when no other funds for that purpose have been raised and also to sustain operating expenses for one year “in keeping with best operating practices for nonprofit organizations of our size.”

Foundation officials in a written statement have acknowledged seeking a state bailout since late last year. They went public with their plight on May 10, after a meeting with the governor’s staff resulted in no promise of state funding. The governor’s office has said that it wants to see a business plan from the foundation.

In its written statement, the foundation said that it has made three previous attempts to secure funds from the state General Assembly. State Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, said that she’s not aware of any formal requests for money. Calling the museum a “treasure,” Jimenez said that she’s “exploring the idea” of seeking an appropriation to prevent artifacts from being sold, but she wants more information about the foundation and its finances, past, present and future.

“I think when something like this occurs, where someone’s made a deal that they’re obviously having trouble fulfilling, I think we have to figure out what has been going on over the years and really take a good look at that,” Jimenez said. “I think that people should rightfully be asking a lot of questions, because we don’t have the extra funds lying around.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at

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