Taxpayers Come Last at the National First Ladies Museum

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

In my Waste Watch column this week, I expose the cost of the First Ladies National Historic Site to taxpayers.

The museum is located in Canton, OH, as a result of pork-barrel politics. Worse, the museum was created, and is now run, by the wife of former Congressmen Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), the person responsible for the project’s federal funding.

The museum is based around the home of Ida Saxton McKinley, perhaps the least distinguished first lady in American history. Epilepsy left Ida an invalid most of her life. At formal dinners, she always sat next to her husband, President William McKinley. That allowed him to quickly toss a napkin over her head to conceal the temporary facial distortions that accompanied her frequent seizures. (That’s one of my all-time favorite presidential facts.)

While taxpayers spent $1,021,000 to bankroll the federal government’s glorification of former president’s wives in 2011, only 8,254 people visited the complex.

In other words, taxpayers paid $124 in subsidies to the First Ladies National Historic Site for every single man, woman and child who walked through the door last year.

Check out the full article here.

Drew Johnson

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34 Responses to “Taxpayers Come Last at the National First Ladies Museum”

  1. #1 |  Aresen | 

    Maybe Radley could get funding for the National Presidential Dog Museum.


  2. #2 |  Alex | 

    What does this matter though? I agree it was a bad and somewhat corrupt spending decision, but it is literally inconsequential as far as our budget problems go.

  3. #3 |  ClubMedSux | 

    In response to your full article: To be fair, we taxpayers are probably subsidizing that Apple Store in Amish country too.

  4. #4 |  Chris Mallory | 

    Ida Saxton McKinley having an epileptic fit was probably more distinguished than 90% of the first ladies since.

  5. #5 |  Aresen | 

    @ Alex:

    The particular item is immaterial, but it is significant as an indicator the pervasiveness of the porkbarrelling and the corruption of the political class.

    It is similar to the fees that banks keep charging for small items: We’re being nickled and dimed to death.

  6. #6 |  marco73 | 

    You are absolutely correct. A million here and a million there, and finally you are talking about real money.

  7. #7 |  Bee | 

    Why couldn’t this be incorporated into the Smithsonian Museum of American History? It’s not an uninteresting subject, and we already have the Smithsonian.

    But then there’s no boondoggle. Duh.

  8. #8 |  Adrian Ratnapala | 

    I am not sure this money is really such a waste compared to other museums. Sure the Smithsonian is probably more valuable, but then it costs more too. If you’re gonna have publicly funded museums, then First Ladies seems like a reasonable topic for a small one.

  9. #9 |  Alex | 

    “You are absolutely correct. A million here and a million there, and finally you are talking about real money.”

    This isn’t really true though. Entitlement and military spending are the disasters-waiting-to-happen; we can fund thousands of these museums and it wouldn’t really be a big deal at all if we had our other spending under control.

  10. #10 |  Mark Z. | 

    Aresen #5: It’s a distraction from the corruption of the political class, which these days is about using the apparatus of government to convert a whole sector of the economy into your private revenue stream. Bank bailouts, corporate prison labor, private military contractors–that’s corruption.

    Diverting tax money to someone’s pet project is barely worth talking about. In recognition of Rep. Regula’s quaint, innocuous approach to graft, give him a medal engraved with a picture of Teapot Dome.

  11. #11 |  John Pomeroy | 

    Recently added to Pres. McKinley’s White House online biography:
    “At a 2012 State Dinner, President Obama was forced to follow President McKinley’s example from the 19th Century and throw his dinner napkin over the First Lady’s head when she wouldn’t stop talking about the high cholesterol of the Wagyu Beef that was being served. He was particularly peeved after being referred to as ‘my husband, old stinky smoker.'”

  12. #12 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Aresen (#1); you think you are making a joke, but you aren’t:

    As to the “It isn’t that much money” argument; I have been listening to that particular piece of World Weary Wisdom from Experienced Politicians Of Note since I first started paying attention to politics. Every time I hear it, it infuriates me. $1,021,000 may be chicken-feed to a lifelong parasite like (say) Teddy Kennedy, but it would sure make a difference in MY bank account.

    I wish I thought legislation could get passed allowing a citizen to challenge any program or budget item he considered wasteful, requiring the sitting congress to immediately hold a straight up-and-down vote, and if there weren’t enough parasites – I mean congresscritters – to approve the item voiding it for a minimum of ten years and giving one year’s funding to the proposer as a bounty.

    But I’m a Crank. I think there should be a fee-for-license hunting season on elected officials and GS 8’s and above.

  13. #13 |  Jeff M | 

    Like Chris Mallory I’m curious about the mention of Mrs. McKinley being among the least distinguished first ladies. The only things you mention after that is her epilepsy and the fact that her husband did whatever he could to help protect her dignity.

    I’m guessing there is something of substance that makes you feel she’s perhaps the least distinguished? Because it seems really strange that a free minds and free markets type would say essentially, “Ida McKinley had epilepsy and I think that makes her undistinguished.” In fact that might make her the most distinctive first lady ever to again jump in with Chris Mallory.

  14. #14 |  TimH | 

    Alex – Since you think the topic is unimportant, why not start your own blog about what’s important to you, rather than leaving two comments about something you state is unimportant?

    To me, all light shed on corruptions – major or minor – helps…

  15. #15 |  Bob | 

    I wish i could care about pork barrel deals like this. Sure, they’re bad… the “jobs” they create only serve to bloat the GNP and make us even that much MORE dependent on the government. It’s wasted money that could be much better served by having not taken it from the taxpayers in the first place.

    But focusing on this stupid crap detracts from the attention that needs to be spent on the big picture: The ponzi schemes that are entitlement programs, the ginormous military budget, and the national debt.

    Clearly, our politicians are worthlessly incapable of even discussing these things, much less solving the problems. We need a new “Occupy” movement… one with only one mandate: Vote NO on ANY politician that doesn’t have a solid plan for those 3 big ticket items.

    And I don’t mean some mickey mouse “10 year plan” I mean a plan THIS year, to cut the spending RIGHT NOW.

    Unfortunately, that can’t be done. It’s fun to fantasize about the majority of voters standing up and casting the scorpion from their backs before it’s too late… but let’s face it. The scorpion isn’t on a large percentage of people’s backs… they’re riding on the scorpion.

    I’m at the point where I want to encourage the government to spend even MORE money… Why only borrow 1.5 trillion this year? Make it 5 trillion! Fuck it! Don’t even stop the money presses to do needed maintenance on the motors! QE to the moon! Bail out Europe! Give blank checks to JPMorgan/Chase and the other big banks before they even ask for bailouts! Print money until the global financial system is completely destroyed.

    Then we can start over. Perhaps with a nice little Constitution.

  16. #16 |  CyniCAl | 

    I thought I’d end this thread with my all-time favorite glorification of first ladies … Heather Morgan’s “First Ladies as Dogs” sketch from the long-defunct Dana Carvey Show.

    You’re welcome.

  17. #17 |  KristenS | 

    Some of you are missing the point. This isn’t about dollars and cents, it’s a thought experiment. Or a morality tale. Or an allegory. Whatever. It’s about how a Congressman got his wifey a job working at a museum that nobody fucking cares about. It’s illustrative of the political process and the workings of Capitol Hill, not about raw numbers.

  18. #18 |  Bob | 


    Yeah, I caught that. And I’m curious what her salary is. But in the grand scheme of things, the OTHER stuff this Congressman was doing is so much worse.

    It’s like his job is to shovel 100 dollar bills into a furnace. And every once in a while, he pockets one of the bills. Sure, that’s stealing! But who cares? He’s shoveling hundred dollar bills into a furnace! When called on it, he and his cohorts (Who are all shoveling money into the furnace.) will come up with a “10 year plan” whereby they agree to shovel one less shovel full in per year.

  19. #19 |  syskill | 

    @C. S. P. Schofield #11: Great news! We, The People, have spoken, and Congress has decided to defund the museum and put the money back in our bank accounts, were it will really make a difference! Your share comes to 0.73 cents ($1,021,000 / 140,494,127 income tax filers; source)Would you like that in one lump sum or in annual installments?

    … I guess it really isn’t that much money, wouldn’t you say?

    All in all, a corrupt government is worse than an innumerate populace, but I must admit that the latter pisses me off a lot more.

  20. #20 |  Personanongrata | 

    Taxpayers Come Last at the National First Ladies Museum

    A little ditty for all the tyrants that abound this once was republic:

    The Fletcher Memorial Home (Pink Floyd, The Final Cut)

    Take all your overgrown infants away somewhere
    And build them a home, a little place of their own.
    The Fletcher Memorial
    Home for Incurable Tyrants and Kings.

    And they can appear to themselves every day
    On closed circuit T.V.
    To make sure they’re still real.
    It’s the only connection they feel.
    “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Reagan and Haig,
    Mr. Begin and friend, Mrs. Thatcher, and Paisly,
    “Hello Maggie!”
    Mr. Brezhnev and party.
    “Scusi dov’è il bar?”
    The ghost of McCarthy,
    The memories of Nixon.
    “Who’s the bald chap?”
    And now, adding colour, a group of anonymous latin-
    American meat packing glitterati.

    Did they expect us to treat them with any respect?
    They can polish their medals and sharpen their
    Smiles, and amuse themselves playing games for awhile.
    Boom boom, bang bang, lie down you’re dead.

    Safe in the permanent gaze of a cold glass eye
    With their favorite toys
    They’ll be good girls and boys
    In the Fletcher Memorial Home for colonial
    Wasters of life and limb.

    Is everyone in?
    Are you having a nice time?
    Now the final solution can be applied.

    If you would like to listen to the Fletcher Memorial:

  21. #21 |  The Late Andy Rooney | 

    I agree the museum is a waste of taxpayers’ money, but was it really necessary to talk about Mrs. McKinley that way? Instead of calling her an “invalid” and “perhaps the least distinguished first lady in American history,” she could have been described as a person who engaged in public life despite a severe disability, and was supported to that end by her loving husband. This, during a time in which many people with epilepsy were institutionalized, and some states were beginning to enact laws forbidding people with epilepsy from marrying.

  22. #22 |  Goober | 

    And yet, when asked to review the federal budget for cuts, the congresscritters found that every single line item in the budget was sacrosanct and absolutely, positively necessary and vital for the coninued operation of our country.

    Anyone still trust their government?

    Alex – The point isn’t that this one item is causing our woes. it’s the state of mind, man. What possible business could the federal government have in having museums like this other than to inculcate future generations of it’s own greatness at the future generation’s expense?

  23. #23 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 


    I understand your point, but I was more inveighing against a government that spends so goddamned much money that a million dollars “isn’t worth saving”. I know it would take for freaking ever for our representatives of the Political Class to comb through the huge spending bills they pass and remove all the useless cr*p, but think about this; at least while they were doing that they wouldn’t be getting up to worse trouble.

    I also think that Congressional salaries should be reduced to $1 a year on the grounds that a legislator who can’t live on his graft should get into another line of work.

    But as I said, I’m a Crank.

  24. #24 |  supercat | 

    #23 | C. S. P. Schofield | “I understand your point, but I was more inveighing against a government that spends so goddamned much money that a million dollars “isn’t worth saving”.”

    Any hours Congress spends appropriating money for a $1M/year museum is time during which it isn’t appropriating billions or trillions of dollars per year on worse things. If we could simply require that Congress spend one hour per year for each of 2,000 $1M/year appropriations, and limit Congressional sessions to 2,000 hours, even if the things bought with all those appropriations were totally worthless, the $2B total cost of those appropriations would be a bargain if they kept the government from spending money on other things.

  25. #25 |  Other Sean | 

    For me it’s all about the content of the museum, rather than the cost.

    The typical first lady is someone who married an ambitious little shit when he was fresh out of law school, his eyes glowing with the light of ruthless cynicism. She then dutifully stayed with this man through years of scheming and betrayal, until at last, he became chief executive of the world’s greatest instrument of coercion.

    Who gives a fuck what kind of hors d’oeuvres she liked?

  26. #26 |  syskill | 

    C. S. P. Schofield,

    I don’t think you’re a crank, just bad at math. Let me try to walk you through some calculations:

    (Source for all data below: Heritage Foundation data on the world economy and economic freedom)

    The US GDP is about 14.66 trillion dollars. The government spends 42.2 percent of that, or about 6.2 trillion dollars. The $1.021,000 spent on the National First Ladies Museum is less than 0.00002 percent of total government spending. Clearly not worth getting worked up about.

    But what does it say about our government that $1 million means no more to them than the change I’ve lost in my couch cushions? I’m definitely not a crank, and I think government spending ought to be scaled way, way back to 10% of GDP — lower than any country in the Heritage Foundation’s survey. (Burma is the current lowest at 11.5% of GDP, followed by a cluster of countries around 14 or 15 percent.) That would be about $1.47 trillion. Assuming that Rep. Regula would somehow manage to keep the museum’s budget unchanged, it would then be just under 0.00007 percent of total government spending. Still not worth getting worked up about, I’d say.

    What if we cut government spending all the way to 1% of GDP — ten times lower than any other country in the world! Then the museum’s budget would be 0.0007 percent of total government spending. Are you getting worked up yet?

    To sum up (no pun intended), your “inveighing against a government that spends so goddamned much money that a million dollars ‘isn’t worth saving'” still misses the point: it’s not the government. We live in a country with such a huge economy that a million dollars at the national level just isn’t worth saving.

  27. #27 |  Patrick from Popehat | 

    Syskill, that was precisely the argument I made when I applied for a stimulus grant to manufacture my patent-pending solar powered sweaters, but they still turned me down.

    Oh well, there’s always 2013.

  28. #28 |  syskill | 

    Patrick from Popehat: Good luck getting that grant after Drew, C.S.P., and their friends elect a president who reckons that it costs about $4000 to heat their house and keep gas in their car for a year, so that’s a good number for the US energy budget.

  29. #29 |  jmcross | 

    Maybe if you look at it as this level of corruption being just a small example of the vast pandemic of corruption in the economy. That is what is so disgusting about it. One turd out of 1M in the punch bowl is still a turd.

  30. #30 |  Christopher Swing | 

    “The museum is based around the home of Ida Saxton McKinley, perhaps the least distinguished first lady in American history. Epilepsy left Ida an invalid most of her life. At formal dinners, she always sat next to her husband, President William McKinley. That allowed him to quickly toss a napkin over her head to conceal the temporary facial distortions that accompanied her frequent seizures. (That’s one of my all-time favorite presidential facts.)”

    You know Drew, you could have left out the whole “Christ, what an asshole” paragraph there and been just fine.

  31. #31 |  Gentry Semper Fi | 

    Patrick from Popehat: Get 501-C status, set up a booth at this museum printing the faces of the First Ladies on your sweaters.. 25% to the Company (“Organization”) 25% to the museum & 50% in administation costs (“salary”).. “Solar Powered First Lady Sweaters” shitte put me down for a Dolley Madison, Frances Cleveland, and a Laura Bush..

    Oh just let me know when you go public and sell out to “As Seen on TV inc.”

  32. #32 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @25 – So, in addition to denying history you want to prevent it’s preservation for other people to study.

    Museums are not simply for public display, that’s a side effect of their real job.

  33. #33 |  Christopher Swing | 

    I think for editorial page writers like Johnson (we have one in our town like him) “history” is whatever personal interpretation of past events he chooses to acknowledge/present in that day’s writing, that just so happens to support whatever his point is that day.

  34. #34 |  Return of the Agitator « The Honest Courtesan | 

    […] conducted on Facebook, Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccination campaign and a pork project called “The National First Ladies’ Museum”; he’s also posted a links page and a video of a disgraced congressman telling a joke in his […]