Lawmakers call for Lincoln Foundation audit

November 20, 2018

Two Illinois lawmakers are calling for a closer look at the financial ties between the state-run Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the private foundation that supports it.

Central Illinois Republican State Sen. Jason Barickman and state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said the audit is needed to make sure taxpayer money wasn’t misspent.

Barickman’s 53rd District represents Ford, Iroquois and Livingston counties.

Lawmakers have been questioning the private Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation since reports raised questions about the authenticity of a hat once valued at $6.5 million the foundation bought in 2007. The stovepipe hat was thought to have belonged to Lincoln. In September, WBEZ reported the foundation’s behind-the-scenes efforts to prove the hat belonged to Lincoln were inconclusive, including DNA testing done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The foundation is asking the state to cover a $9.2 million debt on a loan that’s due in October. The debt is from what’s remaining from a $25 million loan the foundation took out more than a decade ago to buy a collection that included more than 1,000 artifacts, many with connections to the 16th president and his family.

“The foundation is asking the state for millions of dollars to cover the purchase of artifacts, including the hat that has been heavily scrutinized,” Barickman said. “Before we can make a decision on that, we need to better understand the financial connection between the foundation and the ALPLM, as well as what agreements are in place governing purchases made by the foundation.”

Barickman said it’s not just about the hat.

“The hat gives you the hook of an interesting story. How was money spent? What decisions were made to get to this hat?” Barickman asked. “But lawmakers, I think, are really looking at what is the proper organizational structure for a state asset like the museum.”

Barickman said he wants to make sure the foundation is supporting the museum and not the other way around.

“The audit, I think, goes at a deeper level of understanding how the state-run museum interacts with the private run museum,” Barickman said.

Lawmakers this week held a hearing into the hat, the relationship between the museum and the foundation, and whether the state can use taxpayer money to pay off the rest of the loan for the hat and the rest of the museum’s marquee Lincoln collection.

“Even after the Illinois House hearing, many questions still remain about the relationship of the Foundation with the Presidential Museum and the money which has been raised for this state agency,” Butler said. “This audit will hopefully shed light on the operations of the foundation and help us plan a path forward to the goal we all desire: Ensuring the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a world-class institution.”

Update hourly