Former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer, a good friend of mine and some-time contributor to this blog, recently had his official portrait hung in Washington DC commemorating his time spent as the Secretary of Agriculture under President George W. Bush.
The cost? $30,500. For a cabinet member who served less than a year. Schafer himself, while holding to a tradition which dates back to Lincoln’s days, questions the cost:
“They are way too expensive in my opinion,” said Schafer, a Republican. “I was like, ‘Can’t we get a cheaper artist? Could we get somebody who’s up and coming?’ ”
Schafer said he was told a private foundation pays for the portraits of agriculture secretaries but said he was not able to confirm that.
To pint a finer point on this absurdity, consider that President Obama’s cabinet has 21 members. Assuming an average cost of $35,000 for each portrait (former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s portrait cost over $40,000) we’re soon talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Given that cabinet members come and go over the years of a President’s administration, we’re now looking at millions of dollars for official portraits for cabinet members who, while important officeholders, are really just footnotes in history.
To be sure, a few million bucks on portraits is a rounding error in the federal budget, but a few million here and a few million there and pretty soon we’re talking about real money.