Published: May 4, 2021
SPRINGFIELD, ILL. – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) cut ties with its fundraising arm, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation (ALPLF) on April 1.
The museum released the following statement: “Greetings. We know you believe strongly in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and its mission of sharing President Lincoln’s legacy and Illinois’s history with the world. Therefore, we want you to be among the first to know of a change here at the ALPLM.
“As of April 1, the ALPLM no longer has an operating agreement with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. That means the foundation won’t be raising money or selling memberships on the ALPLM’s behalf. It won’t offer programming in conjunction with the presidential library or continue using state office space free of charge.
“The decision to part ways was made reluctantly and only after months of fruitless attempts to negotiate with the foundation. The foundation simply would not provide fundamental fiscal information or commit to future cooperation. It wouldn’t even agree to regular meetings with ALPLM executives.
“Without a commitment to work cooperatively to support ALPLM’s mission and provide meaningful transparency and accountability for the taxpayers of Illinois, it does not make sense to renew the ALPLM’s agreement with the foundation. So, what does this mean for operations at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum?
“The short answer is that very little will change. The ALPLM will continue to be open 9 am to 5 pm every single day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Our amazing artifacts will still be on display, our exhibits will continue to immerse you in key moments from Lincoln’s life, and our popular shows will continue to run. In the library, our historians will continue researching Lincoln’s life and the rich history of Illinois, while our librarians will keep on caring for our collections, answering the questions of a curious public and providing world-class service to researchers.
“Rest assured, any membership sold or renewed before April 1 will still be entitled to free admission until it expires or until March 31, 2022, whichever comes first. While the ALPLM will continue to entertain meaningful proposals from the foundation, we will also explore the development of a new membership program and a new foundation to support the presidential library and museum’s mission.
“To be clear, everyone at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum wanted to maintain a close relationship with the Foundation.
“However, as an institution bearing the name of America’s greatest president – a leader known for his insistence on honesty – the ALPLM feels it is vital for the foundation to disclose how much money it raises, where that money goes, and what fundraising plans are in the works to support this institution.
“The foundation is unwilling to provide satisfactory answers to those questions. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the presidential library and the foundation had not been significantly altered since it was signed many years ago. After seven extensions without much change, it clearly needed to be modernized. The MOU was set to expire at the end of 2020, so our team began contacting the foundation in July to discuss updates.
“Our many, many meeting requests were rejected or simply ignored. In December, ALPLM leaders submitted a draft agreement to forge significant measures aimed at improving communication, financial transparency and cooperative planning. Further, at the request of the foundation and with our hope that good-faith negotiations would proceed, we agreed to extend the agreement twice – once until January 31 of this year and then until March 31.
“Finally, on March 15, the foundation submitted its response. It flatly rejected the ALPLM proposals, even one as simple as meeting four times a year with ALPLM leadership. We even offered a temporary agreement that would have allowed the foundation to continue overseeing contracts for food services and souvenirs at the museum.
“This was rejected, too, and our MOU with the foundation expired last night at midnight. Under the circumstances, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum must move forward on its own.
“We thank the Foundation for its assistance over the years and wish its staff the best.”
The foundation responded with a statement in kind: “For months, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation (the “Foundation”) has been working hard and in good faith to negotiate with the State of Illinois and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) to reach a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to govern the relationship between the parties. Unfortunately, we were unable to come to an agreement.
“Throughout the negotiations, the state and ALPLM were inconsistent, unreasonable and threatening in their demands, and spreading misinformation about the foundation, leading us to question if they were indeed negotiating with us in good faith. As importantly, they also consistently demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the Foundation’s role and responsibilities as an independent 501 (c) (3) organization. The foundation is not a subsidiary of, nor vendor to the State of Illinois.
“Early in the process, the state and ALPLM had insisted on – and repeatedly and adamantly refused to extend – a March 31 deadline to reach a new agreement. This arbitrary deadline was at odds with the state’s fiscal year and predated the start date of the ALPLM’s newly-appointed executive director by at least two months.
“We are puzzled and disappointed at this entirely avoidable outcome. We are especially shocked and dismayed that, on March 31, the state and ALPLM unilaterally moved to evict the foundation from our offices, barred new members from a valued benefit: complementary visits to the ALPLM, and blocked our ability to add as members visitors to the ALPLM.
“In our last discussion with the ALPLM late on March 31, we were told by them that they were open to continuing the conversation. As a result, we were blindsided today when they made broad public announcements, including their desire to set up a separate foundation.
“As a result of the state and ALPLM’s heavy-handed and punitive tactics, we are left with no choice but to temporarily suspend our discretionary financial support to the ALPLM. The foundation has historically existed to provide support and maximize resources for the benefit of the ALPLM, which has amounted to more than $42 million since the museum and library opened to the public.
“While we remain open to a resumption of good faith negotiations and call on the state and ALPLM to reverse their punitive actions, we now believe a reasonable path forward is for the parties to wait until the new ALPLM executive director begins work in June and then the leaders of the two institutions can meet with the assistance of an impartial mediator and work towards a new Memorandum of Understanding that reflects the needs and interests of all parties.
“President Lincoln said: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ The foundation sadly agrees and remains committed to working towards better days ahead.”
It is the latest chapter in a relationship that has been strained since the museum’s genesis in 2002. The ALPLM was required by law to work with the ALPLF, whose funds support the educational and cultural programming of the ALPLM, foster Lincoln scholarship through the acquisition and publication of documentary materials relating to Lincoln and his era and promotes a greater appreciation of history through exhibits, conferences, publications, online services and other activities designed to promote historical literacy.
On April 19, lawmakers called for the two organizations to work out their differences through mediation. “This does not belong in the Illinois House,” said State Rep. Terra Costa-Howard.. “This belongs in either binding arbitration or mediation. What this is costing the people of the state of Illinois in legal fees right now is ridiculous.”
On April 19, Governor Pritzker announced that Gary Johnson will assume the Chair of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Board. Christina Shutt was selected back in March to become the ALPLM’s new director, beginning June 8.
The ALPLF has said it is open to resuming negotiations once Shutt begins her role.
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