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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005 12:50 pm

Big name, big money

Richard Norton Smith cashes in at the Lincoln museum

Richard Norton Smith doesn’t come cheap. Besides heading the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Smith is director of the nonprofit fundraising foundation for the museum. Between his state and foundation salaries, Smith doubled his income when he came to Springfield from the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas, where he was paid $156,250. In Illinois, Smith is drawing a state salary of $150,000 and at least that much from the library foundation, according to interviews and IRS records. Smith doesn’t like to talk about his paycheck. “I don’t discuss my salary,” he writes in response to an e-mail from Illinois Times requesting an interview. But, under state and federal law, what Smith earns is a matter of public record. Estie Karpman, who was hired last year as the foundation’s development director, says that the $16,199 listed as salaries in the foundation’s 2003 tax return, the most recent one filed with the IRS, all went to Smith for four to six weeks of work — he became a foundation employee shortly before the end of the fiscal year, she explains. On that basis, Smith, who is supposed to be the foundation’s full-time director while also working full-time for the state, would have collected as much as $192,000 from the foundation in one year. In his e-mail to Illinois Times, Smith says he earned “far less” than that, but he would not be more specific, even though the IRS requires the foundation and other nonprofits to make public the salaries of directors and other key employees. The foundation, however, has long resisted telling the public what it pays Smith. “The foundation does not have the same disclosure requirements as the state,” Susan Mogerman, foundation CEO, told the State Journal-Register in an interview last year in which she refused to disclose his pay. “It’s a private foundation. Richard’s job is not a public job. It’s not a state job.”
The state’s oldest daily newspaper, which Lincoln always considered a friend, did not pursue the matter. Illinois Times did. Maynard Crossland, former director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, says that the foundation agreed to match Smith’s $150,000 state salary on a dollar-for-dollar basis. “I was sitting in the board meeting when they did it,” Crossland says. “It was ‘This is what the governor said he wanted, so this is what we’ll do.’”
Crossland says that he and some others who knew of the arrangement were alarmed. “If the state’s paying for somebody to be a full-time employee, how can you turn around and be paid as a full-time employee by somebody else?” Crossland asks. “You start looking at the ethics legislation, it would be very difficult to decide if he’s working for the foundation or working for the state.” Crossland was ousted from his post as director of the state historic-preservation agency in August 2004, less than a year after Smith came to Springfield. “I don’t have sour grapes about anything,” he says. “Life goes on, and I’ve gone on.”
Smith’s income isn’t limited to what he earns from the state and the foundation. A historian and author, Smith also is a frequent television guest commentator, talking about elections and the presidency. His biography on the life of Nelson A. Rockefeller is scheduled for publication next year. He insists he has enough time to hold down two fulltime jobs while also keeping up with his outside work and interests. “I have been doing this or something like it, for a long time now — that is to say, writing books and doing occasional commentary, etc. — at the same time I have been working fulltime, and then some, overseeing institutions,” he says. “I like to work, and I’ve long since grown comfortable with a schedule that sets aside evenings and weekends for writing and research, at least until this past summer, anyway, when I found myself working the long lines outside the museum most weekends.”
Whether Smith is making $300,000 a year in Springfield or something more, one thing is clear: He’s doing very well compared with the directors of other presidential libraries. The salary of every other presidential-library director is paid by the National Archives. The federal salary scale for a library director starts at $89,000 and goes to $107,000, although it’s possible that some directors earn more as they gain seniority, says a National Archives spokeswoman.
A federal paycheck wasn’t sufficient for Smith when he ran the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library from 1996 to 2001. As in Springfield, Smith supplemented his pay at the Ford library by drawing a salary from the private foundation that raises funds. IRS records show that the Ford foundation wasn’t as generous as the foundation in the Land of Lincoln. In 2001, Smith collected $100,000 from the Ford foundation on top of his federal salary; in 2000, he got $40,000. In Kansas, private sources accounted for slightly more than $50,000 of Smith’s $156,250 annual paycheck at the Dole Institute. Since arriving in Springfield, Smith has been generous with the museum and library he oversees. He says that he donated $50,000 to the museum last year and that he has asked the foundation for “a substantial reduction in pay,” with the money going toward a project with a goal of putting all of Lincoln’s papers online. “I thought that before I or anyone else went out and sought private donations, it was incumbent on me to set an example,” he says.
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