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Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 02:07 pm

Rauner goes after Lincoln papers

Investigation launched


Gov. Bruce Rauner is reportedly shutting down the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project, which aims to digitize every piece of paper that touched the hands of the Great Emancipator.

A spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency that administers the program denied that the papers project has been shut down and said that money remains available. However, the future of a dozen University of Illinois Springfield employees who assisted the state with the program isn’t clear, spokesman Chris Wills acknowledged in an email to Illinois Times.

“Money remains available for the program because it recently received a federal grant of $100,000 in outright funds and an additional $300,000 in matching funds, which can be matched by private donations,” Wills wrote. “The 12 employees who assisted IHPA with the administration of the program are UIS employees, who the state reimbursed through an intergovernmental agreement. That has expired. Due to the budget impasse, IHPA cannot in good faith enter into a contract at this time.”

Wills could not be reached to clarify or expand on his email, sent at 5 p.m. Friday, after Illinois Times broke the story about the internationally famous program facing an uncertain future.

Illinois Times has learned that IHPA has called in the executive inspector general’s office to conduct an investigation of the project that has brought worldwide attention to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, where the project is headquartered. Just what the investigation concerns isn’t clear, but sources indicate that the IHPA is concerned that expenditures have been made without permission from Amy Martin, IHPA director.

Robert Lenz, a Bloomington attorney who is immediate past president of the Abraham Lincoln Association that has provided financial support to the Lincoln papers project, said that he has “100-percent confidence” that there has been no financial impropriety. He added that he’s been told that the IHPA and the governor’s office are concerned that there are no signed contracts that say that the Abraham Lincoln Association and the University of Illinois Springfield are co-sponsors of the Lincoln papers project, even though they’ve been identified as such for as long as 30 years and have helped fund the work.

“There’s some disconnect here,” Lenz said. “For someone to say, ‘Well, they’re (the Abraham Lincoln Association) not a co-sponsor and therefore they’re doing something wrong,’ someone has added two and two together and they got five. And they ought to know better.”

Lenz said that he has heard that an investigation is in the offing.

“I am told that the office of the inspector general is going to conduct some kind of investigation of the papers,” Lenz said. “We’re not the least bit worried about that. I think the papers are clean and green and everything that’s been done is above board.”

Lenz said he thinks that Rauner might be pinching pennies.

“This is me speculating, but somebody in state government, I don’t know who, is looking for some technical or theoretical basis for cutting budget, and this happens to be one of the targets,” Lenz said. “There is nothing about an investigation that the (Abraham Lincoln) papers needs to be worried about. It’s a first-class organization, very careful about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.”

Officials in the governor’s office could not be reached for immediate comment.

Lenz said that the Lincoln papers project is all but closing down.

“As of today, I have just learned, not more than two hours ago, that yesterday, the director of the project, Daniel Stowell, he was instructed by the director of the IHPA to essentially shut down the project,” Lenz said. “Apparently, that’s on direction from the governor’s office. … Based on orders from the governor’s office, the director of the IHPA indicated that the papers project could not sign any more contracts, and that would include contracts for getting grants, applying for grants, receiving grant money necessary for the ordinary daily operation of the project. It throws up in the air the status of all the staff people.”

Stowell is a state employee, but the papers project is staffed by workers paid through the University of Illinois Springfield.

Asked if UIS was alerted to concerns about the Lincoln papers project that prompted the IHPA’s actions, UIS spokesman Derek Schnapp answered: “We don’t know what those concerns are at this point, but we are willing to help with the IHPA and our partners in resolving them. The university has been a longtime partner and supports the mission of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. Any concerns that there may be, we hope we can help address them.”

The Lincoln papers project is part of the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership, and the university has supported the effort to make Lincoln’s papers available to the public since the 1980s. UIS solicits donations to fund the project and last year landed a $100,000 gift from an anonymous donor to honor Cullom Davis, a former history professor at UIS who was editor and director of the Lincoln papers project from 1988 until 2000.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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