Feds Spend $30,500 On Portrait Of An Ag Secretary Who Served Less Than A Year

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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.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Matthew Hawkins

    Did you catch the part where it is not paid for by the federal government? Maybe more research is necessary.

    • The Fighting Czech

      a little goggling and Im left with the impression that we indeed pay for the paintings. apparently the portraits are commissioned, and paid for by the respective office, that the subject was working in. Im somewhat surprised they havent come up with an official office just for commissioning the paintings.

      MR Schafer could have actually stood on principle and refused to allow the painting. But I guess saying you dont want it done, but doing it anyway, Just looks to good in print too pass up….

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Schafer speculated that it was paid for by a private foundation.

      They are, in fact, paid for by taxpayer dollars:

      http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/11/picture-this-cabinet-portraits-for-big-bucks/?page=all

  • sbark

    Obama is always comparing himself to Honest Abe…….so I suppose he’ll start a new tradition, having portraits of his 35 some Czars also on top of his Politburo members in his cabinet.

  • Roy_Bean

    I can understand hiring a painter in 1865 but why aren’t we photoshopping a digital photo and spending $20/sq ft for ink on a 48″ printer now?

    • The Fighting Czech

      Its all done to honor those whom we serve… I hear were gonna start building Pyramids next… Now thats an old tradition!!!!

      • two_amber_lamps

        They honor themselves…

  • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

    More goofball hate President Obama right wing fringe selective bluster.

    Oh, you didn’t see this?

    Taxpayers picked up the tab for official portraits of top appointees in the Bush administration, too, including more than $40,000 spent on a painting of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, records show.

    A portrait of former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, another Bush appointee, cost about $30,000, according to EPA records.

    Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/11/picture-this-cabinet-portraits-for-big-bucks/#ixzz2Mrt1ZLN8

    Oh the outrage! (where was it?)

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      If you’d read the post a little more carefully, you’d realize that the portrait in question was also a Bush appointee (and a ND Republican to boot).

      I didn’t make a partisan argument about this. You did.

      • Thresherman

        Arguing with RBB is like playing chess with a pigeon. Not matter how good you are at chess, the pigeon is just going to knock over the pieces, crap on the board and strut around like it is victorious.

    • camsaure

      OOO, the typical lefty “he did it too” argument that we are subjected to almost daily.

      • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

        I learnt it from watching Pox. Howm I doing?

      • jj

        Plus, when will we learn that money means nothing to most politicians unless it is THEIR money.

  • JoeMN

    Possible sequester cuts ?

    Nah, this wouldn’t be painful for the “little people”

  • devilschild

    It reads like Schafer is talking out of both sides of his mouth…he’s against wasteful spending but he’s okay with it.

    • Thresherman

      First off, do we even know if he had the ability to not have it done? In a bureaucracy some things are done with or without your assent.

      • The fighting Czech

        To be clear, Schafer was not questioning whether or not to have the painting done, it was the cost. at which point he thinks (he never heard of google I guess) some private foundation pays for it.. (which it doesnt)…… He could have said in this interview, he thinks these portraits are a waste of money, and are created to basically to fuel the ego’s of people who really dont need their ego’s fueled anymore. and if it has to be done, it will be done without his permission. (Which he didnt..).

        • Thresherman

          In a way this is kind of a tempest in a teapot, but these little things taken together do add up to quite a bit of money. As they say in the federal government, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon your talking real money.”

  • Thresherman

    I wonder how much the painter got out the 30K and how much went to bureaucratic folderol?

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    Not to brag, but I could take a quality photograph of Mr. Schafer and blow it up to that size for a lot less money. I could even print it on canvas. We’re in the twenty-first century after all. Why not go digital? Even hiring a professional photographer, it would cost a lot less.

    But, let’s remember that this is small fry in our budget. The cuts we need are a lot more painful and will truly hurt people…and neither major political party is willing to make them.

  • Dallas

    Ed knew this was paid for by taxpayers. Since he got the fat cat contract from the oil industry last year, maybe he should pay for the painting of he and Teddy Roosevelt. After all, he was only there for about a year.

    There had to be a lot of Ed input on the project. No one else would have put Teddy in the painting.

  • Anon

    How unsurprising that Rob only comes around to objecting to this cost when a Democratic President is in office. What a hack!

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I’m pretty sure this portrait was commissioned for a Bush appointee, and it’s hardly a new practice under Obama.

      • Guest

        It’s just purely coincidental that suddenly you decide to voice your concerns over the practice under a Democratic administration…

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          I wasn’t even aware that this was a practice previously.

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