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Should taxpayers pay for questionable Lincoln hat?

November 14, 2018

State representatives have conflicting goals headed into an Illinois House tourism committee hearing about a hat the private Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Foundation bought and then sought tax dollars to foot the bill.

More than a decade ago, the foundation bought a collection of artifacts that included a stovepipe hat believed to belong to the 16th President that hailed from Springfield. The foundation spent $25 million to buy the collection. The foundation owes $9.7 million next October.

Tourism committee Vice Chairman state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said the state should cover the private foundation’s debt.

“Those are items that represent Abraham Lincoln, it represents Illinois, it represents tourism and we should preserve those,” Ford said.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said the hat’s appraised value of $6.5 million has been called into question by reports the foundation withheld.

Unbeknownst to the public library and museum, the private foundation brought the FBI in for DNA testing of the hat. That report was inconclusive. It wasn’t shared with lawmakers when foundation leaders went to lobby for tax dollars to cover the debt, Butler said.

Butler wants to know who knew what and when.

“But at the end of the day, it’s a private institution that cut this deal over a decade ago to purchase this collection and I think it’s the responsibility of the foundation to figure out and explain to us how they’re going to pay off the debt,” Butler said.

He said today’s hearing should informative.

Butler said he was upset that foundation officials withheld the FBI’s inconclusive DNA test results when they lobbied for tax dollars.

Ford supports using tax dollars for the debt, but said if the hat was sold under false pretenses, that should be dealt with.

The hat was valued at $6.5 million when the foundation purchased it with a lot of other items for a total of $25 million. The foundation owes $9.7 million on the loan next year.

Ford also said that if there was fraud involved, those responsible should be held accountable.

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