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Erin Carlson Mast, President & CEO.

Opening Testimony 4/15/2021

Greetings Chairperson Robinson, Members of the Committee

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to provide testimony on behalf of the Abraham
Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. My name is Erin Carlson Mast, I’m the newly-hired
CEO of the Foundation. Prior to starting in this role in January of this year, I was the CEO of
President Lincoln’s Cottage, a National Monument in Washington, DC. During my leadership,
the Cottage was routinely recognized for our exceptional work on behalf of the public, and we
even received a Presidential Medal from the Obama Administration for our youth abolitionist
program. For the past 20 years, I have devoted my professional life to public history and
museums, of which 17 were focused on President Lincoln’s legacy.

When I was contacted about taking on the Foundation role, I did so with considerable
trepidation. It was well-known in Lincoln, museum, and fundraising circles that the relationship
between the Foundation and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has been
strained for years.

However, before I accepted the position, I was assured by the Foundation Chair Satch Pecori,
and Ray LaHood, the then-chair of the board of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and
Museum, that both institutions were committed to a “new day” in their relationship and were
hiring new leaders who would work together on this. I was eager to leverage my experience to
help the Foundation and, by extension, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
So, I decided to accept the position and prepare to move myself and my family from
Washington, DC to Illinois, in what has been a difficult year for all of us.

Unfortunately, that “new day” has been elusive. While I had read about ALPLM’s leadership
issues and hostility toward the Foundation in a detailed report written by then-Illinois State
Historian, Dr. Sam Wheeler, I trusted when I was told the partners were ready to turn the page
and leave that behind. The Foundation has moved forward with that firmly in mind. It’s not
clear the ALPLM has. Today, I want to talk about what has happened and how much this
ultimately hurts the people of Illinois. I also want to highlight the substantial benefits the
Foundation has brought to the ALPLM and people of Illinois and how we are an effective
partner. To do this, we need to take a look at the history.

When the Foundation was established in 2001, its efforts were focused on the ambitious goal of
creating the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, or, as I will call it in the rest of
my remarks, the ALPLM. The Foundation raised funds first for the successful completion of the
campaign that led to the Library and Museum’s construction and opening. Since ALPLM’s
opening in 2005, the Foundation has focused on “maximizing resources,” with $42 million in
total going towards a variety of ALPLM requests, including roughly half going toward paying
for the Taper Collection, the most significant collection of Lincoln papers and artifacts in private
hands when it was purchased.

It’s important for this committee to recall that the Foundation purchased the $25 million Taper
Collection at the direct and repeated urging of the State of Illinois. The Foundation has directly
raised the funds and paid the costs of the collection including insurance and loan payments.

Erin Carlson Mast, President & CEO. Opening Testimony 4/15/2021

Another important point to keep in mind is that the ALPLM has been, and continues to be, bound
—by a contractual loan agreement and by the very law this legislature passed —to work
cooperatively and in support of the Foundation’s efforts to fundraise for it. Instead, the ALPLM
declared this month they were severing ties and are looking into starting a separate foundation
and membership.

Mr. Chairperson and members of the committee, I understand that in a dispute such as this, it
might sometimes be difficult to decipher the truth. The Foundation has been dismayed that
ALPLM has issued misleading narratives that aren’t supported by the facts. I would like to try to
help clear that up with facts.

The Foundation is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Our volunteer Board is a Fiduciary 35-
member Board comprised of leaders with experience in business, non-profit, and government
sectors. These are leaders who give of their time, resources, and connections for the benefit of a
state-owned Library and Museum, benefiting the people of Illinois and beyond. They govern the
Foundation and have oversight of its activities. We are not and never have been a subsidiary to,
or a vendor to the State of Illinois. We exist to support the Library and Museum, but that doesn’t
mean we are, or should be, controlled by it.

The Foundation has robust practices for and achievements in accountability as a non-profit.
Each year, the Foundation files IRS Form 990s detailing our revenues and expenditures. In
addition to being available on the IRS’ and others’ websites, we provide copies directly to
ALPLM staff. We go beyond what’s required in statute. For example, we have quarterly Board
meetings, at which our finances are reported by the Finance Committee. We have three ex
officio members – a State Senator, a State Representative and the Executive Director of the
ALPLM – all of whom are invited to each of these quarterly board meetings where they are free
to ask questions.

Each and every year, the Foundation’s finances are audited by a respected third-party audit and
advisory firm. And, each and every year since our first report in 2002, we have received what is
called a “clean audit” – no questionable items or practices. Zero findings across all audits.

A comparison might be useful here. The ALPLM is audited every two years. In their April 2020
audit, their first as an independent agency, they had 15 audit findings, including one in which
their handling of finances was flagged as a significant problem. In particular, they failed to
deposit checks they received – including some from the Foundation – for months.

We are also fully compliant with the Museum Act, a law updated in 2019, sponsored by
Representative Ann Williams of this Committee and passed unanimously in both Chambers. One
of the requirements of the new law was a “working group” between the Foundation Board and
the ALPLM Board, in which each Board would assign three members to work out any
discrepancies between the two parties. The law became effective upon the Governor’s signature
in August of 2019, at which point, the Foundation immediately assigned its three members. The
legislation requires this and, to date, the ALPLM has not fulfilled this statutory requirement.

So, when it comes to transparency, accountability and compliance, the facts are clear. The
Foundation has it and practices it.

Erin Carlson Mast, President & CEO. Opening Testimony 4/15/2021

The purpose of any foundation is to raise and disburse money. Unfortunately, ALPLM has
spread damaging misinformation about the Foundation’s efforts. ALPLM has falsely and
publicly claimed in an open board meeting that the Foundation only provides them with 7 cents
of every dollar raised. This is either knowingly untrue, or suggests ALPLM had a baffling
misunderstanding of standard tax forms. As our 990 tax forms, prepared by the auditors, clearly
show, in this past year, it was closer to 70 cents of every dollar that the Foundation raised or
earned and put toward ALPLM expenses. This worked out to almost $1.8 million last year,
during the pandemic, which provided key support for things including field trips for school
children, the Gilder Lehrman Teacher Institute, and theater programs prior to the pandemic. It
also includes digital initiatives like the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, which the Foundation
stepped in and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support after ALPLM and University of
Illinois Springfield had a falling out over the project in 2015. The average total support per year
since the ALPLM opened to the public has been $2.8 million. That’s nearly three million dollars
a year the taxpayers of Illinois haven’t had to pay to support the ALPLM.

The Foundation provides donations and earned income—royalties from the museum store and
catering contracts. That gross revenue is reserved entirely for ALPLM. Without the Foundation,
the state would have to allocate resources for the management of those contracts and funds.

The Foundation was created to help accomplish a variety of tasks on behalf of the Library and
Museum. As ALPLM knows very well, the Foundation frequently pays for things directly for
the ALPLM, to expedite payment on emergency or priority expenses, such as when ALPLM
asked us to pay directly and overnight a check to a diversity consultant.

Part of the problem appears to be the ALPLM’s misunderstanding that the Foundation was
created simply to hand over cash to the state whenever and for whatever it demands. That’s
simply not how it works in non-profit fundraising. Donors require us to be good stewards of their
support. Funders have their own timelines for making funding decisions. They also have their
own criteria on what is eligible. Some funders and foundations will only give to a non-profit in
good standing and require the non-profit provide all documentation on how the funds are used.
The Foundation has consistently demonstrated to these funders and foundations that it is a good
and accountable financial steward.

It’s also an error and mischaracterization to think the Foundation has only provided financial
support and resources. Foundation staff work directly with ALPLM staff in support of a variety
of initiatives—purchasing items directly for exhibits like State of Sound, lining up partnerships
for the No Malice Project, securing funding, even jumping in on a Saturday to make the purchase
needed for theater equipment to be brought back online, so the visitor experience didn’t miss a

That’s all jeopardized now. Why? Because it is now fairly obvious to the Foundation and others
that ALPLM didn’t want a new Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, with the Foundation.
If they did, why would they spread misinformation and push a damaging, one-sided agreement
on the Foundation, on an arbitrary timeline that they insisted could not be extended beyond
March 31st? That agreement and timetable were at odds with state law and with the state’s fiscal
year. ALPLM rebuffed nearly all substantive proposed edits by the Foundation. They took

Erin Carlson Mast, President & CEO. Opening Testimony 4/15/2021

inconsistent positions on key issues, such as whether or not they wanted to operate the Museum
store, café and catering.

On the eve of the arbitrary deadline the ALPLM imposed, they sent the Foundation an entirely
different MOU and expected the Foundation sign it immediately. It is completely unreasonable
to expect an organization to sign an agreement within a few hours of receipt, without
understanding all the implications to operations.

Rather than give the Foundation reasonable time to review and properly respond, ALPLM
announced publicly the very next morning that it was severing ties and looking into starting its
own foundation and its own membership program. It sent this email to Foundation members and
donors and locked the Foundation out of the shared email marketing system. It also put the
Foundation on notice to vacate its shared office space. Members and donors, and people from
the Lincoln community have reached out to the Foundation, to express how upset they were and
are by ALPLM’s communication.

Is this what was meant by “a new day?”

The Foundation repeatedly asked why a new MOU couldn’t wait for new leadership and new
ideas. Why was the Museum so intent on rushing an MOU, first before the Foundation’s CEO
arrived and, when that wasn’t possible, before the new executive director of the Museum started
in the job? The Foundation was told that my counterpart and I would have a “shared mandate” to
work together, to rebuild the partnership, to rebuild trust.

I bring 20 years of experience in museums, public and non-profit. I served on the board of an
association that serves over 5,000 organizations and individuals in our field. I serve on the board
of a Lincoln organization. I have published on Lincoln, museums and public history, and
preservation. I led the non-profit side of a public/private partnership for over a decade. And I
left that great organization, a National Monument, that I had helped build from the ground up for
this rebuilding effort. Because this was presented as an opportunity to bring new ideas to the
table, to understand and learn from the past, not perpetuate the past.

I am only three months into this job. I am still in the process of relocating my young children
from Washington DC. You can imagine how disheartening and disappointing this has been. It is
equally disheartening and disappointing to the Foundation Board and staff. This wasn’t the new
day the Foundation was promised, nor that they promised me.

Rather than waiting for the new leaders to come on board and build trust, the ALPLM pursued a
“take it or leave it” MOU process. The Foundation was always willing to see a new MOU
implemented that respects the two organizations as independent entities, and the Foundation
board as the governing authority over the Foundation team. The ALPLM claimed their changes
would “enhance communication, create transparency, and add accountability between the
parties.” The agreement they were pushing from December to March 30th imposed all new
requirements on the Foundation without corresponding requirements on ALPLM. Confusingly,
the agreement ALPLM offered March 30th offered no provision for future fundraising efforts,
only the continued management of existing funds raised.

Erin Carlson Mast, President & CEO. Opening Testimony 4/15/2021

I want to be clear: the Foundation was prepared to continue negotiating a new MOU with
ALPLM until they abruptly cut off negotiations and told us to leave. We would be prepared to
resume negotiations immediately with ALPLM under the auspices of an impartial mediator and
with both sides committing to negotiating in good faith and working diligently to build trust.

I end by noting that today marks the 156th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death by
assassination. Appomattox might have marked the official end of the war, but as historians
know, it did not mark the end of hostility. That sounds sadly familiar to me. Yet I remain
hopeful we can find our way through this.

Thank you for the opportunity to present to this committee. I would be happy to answer any
questions you may have.