The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum again has gotten cozy with conservative talk show personality Glenn Beck.
Mercury One, a Texas nonprofit founded by Beck, boasts on its website that the ALPLM was a partner in a recent weeklong exhibit on slavery at the institution in Irving. Other partners included the African American Museum of Dallas, the Dallas Historical Society and Frontiers of Flight Museum.
It’s not clear what artifacts, if any, the ALPLM might have loaned. Last year, the museum sent the Gettysburg Address and other artifacts to Mercury One for display with less planning and fewer safeguards than had been employed in past instances when the copy of Lincoln’s famous speech, valued at $20 million, left the building.
Mercury One also has provided a landing spot for former ALPLM chief operating officer Michael Little, who resigned last fall after he left unattended in the Old State Capitol a 19th century book certifying that Lincoln, then a new lawyer, had good moral character. Schoolchildren had collected $18,000 in pennies to buy the book. Little, who was blamed for destroying ALPLM furniture without proper authorization in a recent inspector general’s report, now is chief operating officer at Mercury One.
Mercury One commits many good deeds, according to its website, ranging from disaster relief to helping veterans to aiding people who’ve been persecuted on the basis of religion. “We don’t stand between government aid and people in need,” Beck says on the organization’s website. “We stand with people in need so they no longer need the government.”
Beck has a history of more provocative statements.
He has called Barack Obama a racist and compared him to Adolf Hitler. He also has drawn comparisons between Hitler and Al Gore. He’s said that people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks complain too much. He once said that he was considering killing Michael Moore and pondered whether he should do the deed himself or hire a hitman. When fires hit California in 2007, Beck, then a Fox television commentator, didn’t sound sad. “I think there is a handful of people who hate America,” Beck told viewers. “Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today.” He showed similar compassion when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, decrying the media’s focus on displaced people in New Orleans. “Those are the only ones we’re seeing on television, the scumbags,” he said.
Why does the ALPLM do business with a nonprofit headed by Beck? Alan Lowe, ALPLM executive director who has sat for several interviews with Beck, did not respond to an interview request from Illinois Times.
As the museum’s executive director, Lowe has authority to send stuff wherever he likes. Before the ALPLM became a standalone agency in 2017, the board of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which oversaw museum operations, had to approve artifact loans. Under current law, the ALPLM is supposed to have a board of directors, but no board has been appointed. The governor’s office did not respond to a query asking when a board might be appointed and whether Gov. J.B. Pritzker has any concerns about the ALPLM’s ties to Beck.
Lowe, appointed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, has a history of GOP ties. He came to Springfield from the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. According to his most recent statement of economic benefit, Lowe during the past year has done consulting work for two former U.S. senators, Bob Corker and Bill Frist, both of Tennessee and both Republicans. Frist, former majority leader, left the Senate in 2007; Corker left office in January. According to campaign disclosure reports, Lowe was paid $1,750 from Corker’s campaign fund.
Chad Fornoff, executive director of the Illinois Ethics Commission, says it’s not illegal for state employees to accept money from political interests so long as no political work is done on state time or with state resources. The nature of Lowe’s consulting isn’t clear from documents, which show that he also worked as a consultant for the National Museum of American Presidents, a proposed museum in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Theodore Roosevelt Library Foundation, an apparent reference to a South Dakota institution that is still in the planning stages.
State law requires state employees to disclose outside income in excess of $5,000, and Lowe also listed the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in his economic benefit statement filed in April. The foundation had been paying $25,000 a year to Lowe, who earns $175,000 a year from the state, but the director last year said he has stopped taking money from the foundation, due to controversy over the private group’s handling of a stovepipe hat with questionable provenance.