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Lincoln Statue Donor Loses Tax Status

Deborah Fitts

- (October 2007) RICHMOND, Va. - The private organization that donated a controversial statue of Abraham and Tad Lincoln to Richmond National Battlefield Park has lost its tax-exempt status, and at least one prominent figure in the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) is calling for the statue to go.

"Because of the stain on that statue, I don't think it should be there," said Brag Bowling, a national SCV board member and past commander of the Virginia Division.

The life-size statue, depicting President Lincoln and his son seated on a bench, sits in front of the park visitor center at the historic Tredegar Iron Works. It commemorates the Lincolns' April 5, 1865, visit to Richmond.

The SCV bitterly fought introduction of the statue, describing it as an insult to Southern heritage.

The dedication went ahead April 5, 2003, drawing a large crowd and several prominent Virginia politicians, to a backdrop of protests by the SCV. Supporters of the statue recalled Lincoln's visit to the Confederate capital, saying that the president had come in peace to "bind up the nation's wounds."

The Richmond Times-Dispatch broke the story in late August that the Internal Revenue Service had removed the tax-exempt status of the United States Historical Society. No details were forthcoming.

But Bowling suggested the action did not come as a surprise. In fact he said the SCV had urged the IRS to look into the society, suspecting that the group was using the good name of the park and other prominent educational organizations in order to reap a profit.

To fund the estimated $250,000 cost of the original statue the society has been selling 8-1/2-inch-tall bronze replicas through its "online shop" at $145 and $875 apiece, plus shipping. (The replicas were also advertised several years ago at $99.50 for bonded bronze and $875 for solid bronze, plus shipping, in Civil War News.)

"What they really wanted to do was not just pay for the statue, but pull in a bunch of money," said Bowling. The "public furor" that resulted just played into their hands, he said.

Bowling blamed the park, asserting that the National Park Service (NPS) had "whitewashed" an investigation of the society, an investigation prompted by Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode.

"They didn't do anything, in my opinion," said Bowling of the NPS. "They gave them a clean bill of health and went ahead and put the statue in." The park, along with the Virginia Historical Society, became major promoters of the statuettes, he said.

But Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod said the park had no reason to suspect there was anything amiss. Besides, she added, a group's for-profit or nonprofit status was not an issue anyway.

"We checked their credentials, we had a letter from the IRS saying they were a nonprofit, and we met with their accountant and went over their returns," MacLeod said. "Everything was in order."

"But in a way it wasn't even germane," she said. "NPS accepts donations from for-profit as well as non-profit entities. I would have no reason to think we would do anything different at this point."

A society spokesman issued the following statement: "The Internal Revenue Service has determined that the U.S. Historical Society cannot function as a non-profit organization. Although the Society has continued to operate in the same manner as it has for many years - marketing objects of artistic and historic significance to generate funds for non-profit organizations - we accept the ruling of the IRS and now function as a non-stock for-profit Virginia organization.

"We are proud of the many projects that the Society has conducted over the years for hundreds of organizations. Based in Richmond, the Society is especially proud of commissioning the statue of Abraham Lincoln and donating the work to the National Park Service for its location at Tredegar in Richmond, commemorating the visit of the President and his son, Tad, to Richmond in 1865."

The society's Web site notes that it fosters appreciation of American history "through the publication of books, sponsorship of projects, and the artful reproduction of objects that have interesting historical significance, and through this process to assist cooperating museums, historic homes and other organizations."

Bowling acknowledged that despite the latest flap over the statue, it's likely to remain in place.

"There's not much we can do about it," he said. "We put in a full effort to try and stop it in 2003. This was one of the largest heritage fights the SCV has been in. Now I don't know what can be done."

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