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Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 12:07 am

Lincoln museum finances reviewed

If fund fizzles, museum might close, spokesman says

Amid a reshuffle of the institution’s governing board and a state budget impasse, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s finances are being scrutinized.

Chris Wills, spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency that oversees the institution, confirmed that IHPA director Amy Martin is reviewing monies that the ALPLM receives from the gift shop, catering services and a Subway restaurant inside the institution, which operate under contracts with the institution’s private nonprofit foundation. Revenue from the operations is deposited into a “direct support” fund that has traditionally been used to pay various expenses, Wills said, including the costs of actors and monthly family days during which the institution holds special events aimed at kids, such as back-to-school parties.

“Since there’s no state budget in place, that fund is now being used to pay many of the museum’s daily expenses,” Wills wrote via email. “If all the direct support money is used, the museum might not be able to stay open. Therefore, Director Martin wants to keep a close eye on it.”

During the last fiscal year, the ALPLM, which has an annual budget of more than $12 million, spent nearly $510,000 from the direct support fund, Wills said. As of the end of August, there was nearly $87,600 in the direct support fund, Wills said. Financial figures for September have not been prepared, he said.

“The fund has always supported activities at the ALPLM, and that continues to be the case,” Wills wrote. “Now, with the complications caused by the lack of a state budget, we’re also using it to pay for some critical supplies, parts for our exhibits and AV equipment, our cash-management service and more.”

Martin’s review of the fund comes as the IHPA has threatened to withdraw state support for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project, which is digitizing every document written or read by Lincoln. The project began in the 1980s under the auspices of Sangamon State University, which is now University of Illinois Springfield. The project is now headquartered in the presidential library under an intergovernmental agreement between IHPA and UIS. The IHPA, citing the failure of the governor and legislature to pass a budget, has refused to renew the agreement that includes provisions for the state to pay matching funds earmarked to leverage at least $200,000 in federal grants. The project’s director has said that the lack of state funds could result in the project shutting down.

Gov. Bruce Rauner last week appointed four new members, including a chairman, to the IHPA board of trustees that oversees the institution. Jim Bruner, the new chairman, heads a Jacksonville paving company called United Contractors Midwest. He has made more than $456,000 in campaign contributions since 1996, almost all to Republican causes, and helped organize at least one fundraiser for Rauner last year, although he did not contribute to the governor’s campaign, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Other new appointees include Gail Shiel, a Chicago interior designer, Andy Volpert, a Southeast High School history teacher who lives in Springfield, and Jane Hay, a Springfield real estate broker.

Sunny Fischer, the previous IHPA chairwoman, had resisted a move to establish the ALPLM as a standalone entity. Rauner earlier this year had called for the ALPLM to become an independent institution while abolishing the IHPA and folding its non-ALPLM functions into the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The General Assembly ultimately passed a bill to remove the ALPLM from the IHPA and retain the historic preservation agency, but that bill was not sent to the governor. Legislators have said that Rauner threatened to veto the bill if it reached his desk.

Rauner’s press office did not respond to an inquiry about the appointments, either from Illinois Times or the Associated Press.

Ted Flickinger, an IHPA board member who was replaced, said that he received no warning about the appointments and found out that he had been replaced from Illinois Times. Steve Beckett, a University of Illinois law professor who is chairman of an ALPLM advisory board, was also caught by surprise.

“Here you have the governor pretty much wanting to get rid of IHPA and fold it into DCEO,” Beckett said. “Now you tell me that he’s appointed four new members to the board. Holy cats. … I’m completely confused, and it’s very difficult to steer in any particular direction when you have this kind of situation.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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