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A Monumental Gift

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The generous donation the National Park Service announced on Thursday from philanthropist David Rubenstein adds another wrinkle to the saga of the nation's capital's 164-year-old struggle to build and maintain the Washington Monument.

Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group investment firm, gave $7.5 million to speed repairs to the city's tallest structure after it was damaged in last August's earthquake. He has also made important gifts to maintain pandas at the National Zoo and to preserve the Magna Carta at the National Archives and Record Administration.

But it's also interesting that the window for Rubinstein's gift to repair the monument was created by today's cash-strapped Congress, which in December appropriated money for repairs only on condition that it be matched by private money.

A skim of the Park Service's history of the monument reveals one of the players in the monument's earlier funding crisis was called the Know-Nothing Party. The account reads: "In an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony in 1848, the cornerstone was laid. Lack of funds and the illegal election which placed the Washington National Monument Society in the hands of the Know-Nothings, a political party, caused delay. Although the Know-Nothings returned all records to the original society in 1858, the latter could accomplish little without funding. The outbreak of Civil War of 1861 exacerbated the society's difficulties with fund-raising efforts."

(Flickr photo by Ko:(char *)hook)

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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