Debate over Paying for Presidential Libraries as Bush Library Opens in Texas, Some Taxpayers Balk at Public Funding for 'Shrines'

By Skip Thurman, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

Debate over Paying for Presidential Libraries as Bush Library Opens in Texas, Some Taxpayers Balk at Public Funding for 'Shrines'


Skip Thurman, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


To some Americans, they are merely expensive warehouses, taxpayer-funded shrines to presidential-size egos. To others, they are invaluable educational tools and unique repositories of American history.

Yesterday's dedication of the Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, reignites a simmering debate over public funding of these sites.

Each year, the federal government shells out $25 million to run the 10 presidential libraries around the country. "It's a waste of money and time," groused one caller to C-Span during an on-air debate this week. "At $25 million, it's a pittance!" responded another. "We have too many $25 million pittances," said yet another, in response. The discussion turned so raucous, mild-mannered host Brian Lamb was forced to interrupt one agitated Las Vegas caller with an ear-splitting whistle. Some of the public opposition for funding operational costs stems from the mistaken idea that construction of the libraries comes out of public coffers. In fact, the 10 presidential libraries in the National Archives and Records Administration system, including the new $83 million Bush library, were paid for by private donations. Most of the funding comes from presidential supporters who want to ensure their man is remembered properly. But foreign entities are also big donors. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, for example, each contributed $1 million to the Bush library. The People's Republic of China also pitched in between $50,000 and $100,000. Since passage of the Presidential Libraries Act of 1986, each facility is required to raise a private endowment large enough to augment the government's operational costs. The government pays for staffing and general maintenance. But special events - receptions and other functions that go beyond standard operations - are paid for privately. Still, some taxpayers balk at what they see as an exercise in vanity, erecting a place for supporters to pay homage. …

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