ALPLM parts way with foundation

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has parted ways with its private foundation that owns more than $20 million worth of artifacts, including a questionable hat, that have been a mainstay of museum exhibits.

In addition to controlling artifacts, the foundation has run the institution’s gift shop and concessions under a memorandum of understanding that expired on Wednesday. The foundation also applies for grants to sustain such endeavors as the Papers Of Abraham Lincoln project, which aims to put online every document read by or written by Lincoln.

The memorandum that expired Wednesday had been extended three months after it was supposed to expire on Jan. 1. Today, both the public institution and the foundation issued press releases saying that they are through with each other. Saying that it might start a new foundation, the ALPLM blamed the existing foundation for a lack of fiscal transparency.
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The ALPLM and its private foundation have severed ties.

“The foundation simply would not provide fundamental fiscal information or commit to future cooperation,” ALPLM officials wrote in an unsigned written statement. “It wouldn’t even agree to regular meetings with ALPLM executives. … To be clear, everyone at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum wanted to maintain a close relationship with the foundation. However, as an institution bearing the name of America’s greatest president – a leader known for his insistence on honesty – the ALPLM feels it is vital for the foundation to disclose how much money it raises, where that money goes, and what fundraising plans are in the works to support this institution. The foundation is unwilling to provide satisfactory answers to those questions.”

The foundation fired back with its own written statement, sent by board member Nick Kalm, that accused the ALPLM of negotiating in bad faith. The foundation, Kalm wrote, has been evicted from offices owned by the state and barred from selling memberships that come with free admission to the institution.

“Throughout the negotiations, the state and ALPLM were inconsistent, unreasonable and threatening in their demands, and spreading misinformation about the foundation, leading us to question if they were indeed negotiating with us in good faith,” the foundation said in the statement. “As importantly, they also consistently demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the foundation’s role and responsibilities as an independent…organization. The foundation is not a subsidiary of, nor vendor to the State of Illinois.”

The foundation owns artifacts kept in the ALPLM’s vault, including some of the most prized relics displayed in the museum. Items include a stovepipe hat that the museum will no longer display after questions arose nearly a decade ago about whether the artifact ever graced Lincoln’s head. The museum and the foundation were supposed to have hired experts, with the public and private side evenly splitting costs, to determine whether the hat is genuine. But the foundation recently took control, saying that it will pay fees for experts who will sign non-disclosure agreements, with their report to be released by the foundation.

In its written statement, the ALPLM says that exhibits will not be affected by the severing of ties with the private foundation. ALPLM spokesman Chris Wills reiterated that during an interview, saying that procedures surrounding the foundation-owned artifacts, purchased by the foundation from foundation board member Louise Taper in 2007, are governed by an agreement separate from the memorandum of understanding that has expired.

But ALPLM board member Steven Beckett says that he’s concerned about artifacts that don’t belong to the public institution but have long been centerpieces. The foundation has struggled to repay a loan used to purchase artifacts that include gloves Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater.

“It is a significant issue – it (expiration of the MOU) has ramifications for use and public access to the exhibits,” Beckett said.

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project also could be affected, according to a March 24 email from Daniel Worthington, to Melissa Coultas, acting ALPLM director who is due to be replaced by Christina Shutt, recently hired by the board, in June. In his email, Worthington warned that funding from federal agencies that have helped pay for the project might be jeopardized.

“With the MOU due to expire in a week and potential suspension of relations between the APLF and the ALPLM, the project would have difficulty hiring new employees without some understanding of how the ALPLM proceeds without the ALPLF,” Worthington wrote. “Not hiring new staff would mean that we failed in our objectives, and the (National Endowment for the Humanities) and the (National Historic Papers and Publication Commission) could place the project on probationary status.”

Beckett said that he thought that negotiations had been progressing.

“I thought people were at the table talking,” Beckett said. “I don’t understand – I truly don’t understand. I await to be enlightened. I always, in dealing with issues, try to put myself in the other party’s shoes to understand their perspective in any negotiation situation. I candidly have not been able to understand where the other side is coming from.”

During a March 17 board meeting, ALPLM trustee Joan Brodsky said that the board needed more financial information from the foundation before agreeing to a memorandum of understanding. Brodsky, who declined comment afterward, also sits on the foundation board, according to her biography posted on the ALPLM website.

Beckett said that he doesn’t understand why the two sides can’t agree.

“Nobody has explained to me the foundation’s position, and why,” he said. “If anybody exercised the nuclear option, it was not us.”

News of the split comes amid revelations that that Ray LaHood, chairman of the ALPLM board, accepted a $50,000 loan from a foreign billionaire in 2012, while U.S. Secretary of Transportation, because he was broke after serving more than a dozen years in Congress. LaHood agreed to repay the money, plus a $40,000 fine levied because he hadn’t reported the loan, as required, on financial disclosure statements.

Reached hours after the LaHood matter made headlines, Beckett said that he hadn’t heard of the imbroglio.

“It’s April Fool’s Day,” Beckett noted. “You’re not joking, right?”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

About The Author

Bruce Rushton

Bruce Rushton is a freelance journalist.

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